Eight dead in possible arson attack at Paris apartment block
Eight people have died and 30 have been injured in an overnight blaze at an apartment block in Paris that is being treated by police as a possible arson attack, officials said Tuesday.
The fire on the top floors of an eight-storey building in the rue Erlanger in the upmarket 16th district of southwest Paris is one of the most deadly in the capital in years.
Pictures from the fire brigade showed flames leaping out of top floor windows and firemen climbing flimsy ladders to rescue terrified residents from thick black smoke.
Described as a “scene of incredible violence”, the blaze left around 30 people — including six firefighters — with injuries.
“One person has been arrested. It’s a woman. She’s currently in custody,” Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said from the scene on Tuesday morning where smoke could still be seen rising from the area.
An investigation has been opened into the criminal charge of causing death by arson.
The fire started at about 1:00 am (0000 GMT) and was finally brought under control more than five hours later by around 200 firefighters.
“At first we thought it was a fight, we could hear a woman screaming really loud,” a local resident who gave his name as Nicolas told AFP.
“She was screaming, screaming and we went outside and the building was already on fire. The firemen had just arrived but what was amazing was that they were completely impotent.
“They had the trucks, the big ladders, but they couldn’t do anything,” he explained.
Only once they had fitted extenders to their equipment were they able to begin rescue operations, including people who had sought refuge on the roofs of nearby buildings, he said.
The witness repeated a rumour in the area that the fire had been started because of a dispute between neighbours.
“We’ll let the police give further information, but it’s one of the possibilities being examined by investigators,” deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, told RTL radio.
Another local resident, Jose Emilien, was standing at a police cordon on Tuesday morning anxiously seeking news of his cousin and nephew who lived on the sixth floor of the building.
“I called both of them,” he told AFP. “They’re not picking up and I don’t have any news.”
The neighbourhood is home to several private schools and lies on the edge of the vast Bois de Boulogne park.
It is close to the stadium of football club Paris Saint-Germain, the Parc des Princes, and the Roland Garros complex used for the French Open tennis tournament.
“Paris is in mourning this morning,” mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted.
She along with other politicians including Interior Minister Christophe Castaner were expected to visit the scene amid fears the death toll could rise further.
Fire service spokesman Captain Clement Cognon told AFP overnight that firefighters were yet to search the upper floors of the block.
He added: “We had to carry out many rescues, notably for around a dozen people who had taken refuge on the roofs. In total about 50 people were evacuated by firefighters, including through the installation of ladders.”
Two adjacent buildings were also evacuated as a precaution and local officials were on site to help find housing for residents who could not return to their homes.
Several streets were still cordoned off by police and fire crews on Tuesday morning.
The blaze follows a fire caused by a powerful gas explosion last month that killed four people in the city’s central 9th arrondissement.
In late December, two women and two girls died from asphyxiation in a fire that broke out in a public housing block in a suburb northeast of Paris.
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