John Sealy Hospital will remain closed indefinitely after a fire Wednesday sent thick smoke through the building and forced 200 people out onto the surrounding streets and sidewalks.

The hospital at the University of Texas Medical Branch will remain closed while crews clean and make repairs from a fire that started on the second floor of the south tower, spokesman Raul Reyes said.

Patients were transferred to other medical branch facilities, and some outpatient surgeries were being rescheduled, Reyes said.

The medical branch’s burn unit, labor and delivery unit and children’s hospital are in John Sealy Hospital.

The fire department was called to the hospital about 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, city spokeswoman Jaree Hefner said.

The exact source of the fire had not been identified Wednesday evening.

Galveston Fire Chief Mike Wisko said the smoke originated in an area under construction, and hospital equipment and furniture, such as a bed, had caught fire. Smoke spread as high as the ninth floor, but was dense up to the fifth floor, Wisko said.

The Galveston Ambulance Authority said 43 hospital patients were transported to local emergency rooms and hospitals on Wednesday.

Five non-patients were treated for smoke inhalation, according to the ambulance authority.

The fire was reported to be extinguished at 2:25 p.m. and crews were working to ventilate the hospital and connected buildings. The hospital at that time was still being evacuated because of the smoke, said Dr. David L. Callender, medical branch president.

“We have emergency plans for all sorts of issues that confront us,” Callender said. “Our staff are very well trained, and I think that was very apparent today in the fact that no staff and no patients were injured in the evacuation.”

Patients said they encountered black smoke in stairwells as they were leaving the building.

“My wife was ... we had a delivery this morning,” said Adil Swati, 30, of Beaumont. Swati said he had been on an upper floor of the building.

“We were so scared,” he said. “Even the nurse didn’t know where to go.”

Swati said his wife and child were safe and were moved to another building.

Helen Thibodaux, 56, of Corpus Christi, was visiting her grandson in the hospital and encountered the smoke as she came back from a bathroom.

“I came out, I could smell it, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t see,” Thibodaux said. “Police and firefighters were funneling everyone through the hall. There was a lot of people.”

Jimmy Hamsmith, 50, of Freeport, said the fire alarms went off as his fiancee, who had a baby the day before, was being discharged.

“All of a sudden smoke alarms go off,” Hamsmith said. “At first they said it was a fire drill ... They did really well getting everybody out.”

The fire department closed Market Street from Sixth Street to 10th Street during the evacuation.

Patients were transferred to other emergency rooms and hospital buildings, while visitors and employees were ushered out to the street.

Three women were in labor while the building was being evacuated, Wisko said.

Callender said he is unsure when the south tower would be ready for use, because the hospital was still assessing water and smoke damage.

The hospital, built in 1975, is undergoing a $135 million renovation to modernize its facade, increase the size of patient rooms and update the infrastructure.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.


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