People carry the casket of a victim after a fire broke out at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq, July 13. Pope Francis offered his prayers and condolences after the fire at in the hospital's COVID-19 ward left at least 64 people dead. (CNS photo/Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters)
People carry the casket of a victim after a fire broke out at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq, July 13. Pope Francis offered his prayers and condolences after the fire at in the hospital's COVID-19 ward left at least 64 people dead. (CNS photo/Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters)
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis offered his prayers and condolences after a fire at in a COVID-19 hospital ward in Iraq left at least 64 people dead.

"His Holiness Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all affected by the tragic fire at the COVID isolation ward of the al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah," said a telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Mitja Leskovar, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq.

"Deeply saddened, he prays especially for those who have died and for the comfort of their families and friends who mourn their loss. Upon the patients, staff and caregivers, he invokes God's blessings of consolation, strength and peace," said the message, which the Vatican released July 13.

Associated Press reported that in addition to the 64 people reported dead as of July 13, officials said more than 100 people were injured in the blaze July 12 at the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital.

Officials initially had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, AP reported, but another official told the agency the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The COVID-19 ward opened three months ago and had 70 beds.