“We found the children,” some dead, some alive, he added.
The country’s health minister blamed the smoke and a stampede as people attempted to flee the fire for causing the fatalities. It was one of the worst fire tragedies in Egypt in recent years.
The church is located in a narrow street in one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Cairo. Sunday is the first working day of the week, and traffic jams clog the streets in Imbama and surrounding areas in the morning.
Some relatives criticized what they said were delays in the arrival of ambulances and firefighters. “They came after people died. … They came after the church burned down,” shouted one woman standing outside the smoldering church.
Health Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghafar countered that the first ambulance arrived at the site two minutes after the fire was reported.
Fifteen firefighting vehicles were dispatched to the scene to put out the flames while ambulances ferried casualties to nearby hospitals, officials said.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi spoke by phone with Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences, the president’s office said. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam, also offered condolences to the head of the Coptic church.
“I am closely following the developments of the tragic accident,” el-Sissi wrote on Facebook. “I directed all concerned state agencies and institutions to take all necessary measures, and immediately to deal with this accident and its effects.”
Abdel-Ghafar, the health minister, said in a statement that two of the injured were discharged from a hospital while the others were still being treated.
The Interior Ministry said it received a report of the fire at 9 a.m. local time, and first responders found that the blaze had broken out in an air conditioner on the building’s second floor.
The ministry, which oversees police and firefighters, blamed an electrical short-circuit for the fire, which produced huge amounts of smoke. Meanwhile, the country’s chief prosecutor, Hamada el-Sawy, ordered an investigation and a team of prosecutors were dispatched to the church. He said most victims died of smoke inhalation.