Two people have been killed and at least 15 injured in a fire at a hospital in Bochum, Germany, and efforts to douse the flames are ongoing, the fire department and hospital officials said Friday.

The blaze broke out in a patient's room on the sixth floor of Bergmannsheil university hospital around 2:35 am (0035 GMT) and spread rapidly to the seventh, eighth and ninth floors, Gottfried Wingler-Scholz of the local fire brigade said.

The two patients who died in the fire were staying in adjacent rooms on the sixth floor in a ward for people with infectious diseases, said the hospital's director Thomas Schildhauer.

Seven people are in a life-threatening condition, four of whom have been taken to Aachen and Wiesbaden by helicopter for treatment, a spokesman for the city of Bochum said.

Witnesses said the top floor of the building was completely gutted by the fire and officials could not say whether restoration would be possible.

Some 165 firefighters are battling the flames. Wingler-Scholz said that the operation would continue throughout the day, with additional firemen being drafted in from throughout the region.

Bochum mayor Thomas Eiskirch said that 126 people had been evacuated from the hospital during the night, and that about 100 patients unaffected by the incident had been released early to free up space for those who sustained injuries in the fire.

The rapid spread of the fire may be due to hospital beds having been stored on the floor above where the fire originated, said Ralf Jaeger, interior minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the hospital is based.

The cause of the blaze remains unclear, however. The 650-bed facility is one of the largest in the region.

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