10 dead in Paris apartment block fire, police suspect arson

Agence France-Presse
(3rd UPDATE) Described as a 'scene of incredible violence,' the blaze also leaves around 30 people – including 6 firefighters – with injuries

Firefighters are seen near a building that caught fire in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, on February 5, 2019. Photo by Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP

PARIS, France (3rd UPDATE) – At least 10 people died and 30 were injured in an overnight blaze at an apartment block in Paris that police suspect was deliberately started by a female resident, officials and firefighters said Tuesday, February 5.

The fire on the upper floors of the building in rue Erlanger in the upmarket 16th district of southwest Paris is the most deadly in the capital since 2005.

Dramatic video footage from the scene showed flames leaping out of top floor windows and firemen climbing narrow ladders to rescue terrified residents, some dressed only in pyjamas, from the top of the eight-story block.

Described by one rescue worker as a “scene of incredible violence,” the blaze left at least 10 people dead and around 30 others injured – 6 of them firefighters, the fire service said.

“One person who lives in the building has been arrested. She’s a 40-year-old woman who has prior psychological problems,” Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said at the scene, where the smell of smoke still hung in the air several hours after the blaze was extinguished.

An investigation has been opened into the criminal charge of causing death by arson amid fears that the toll could climb further as investigators search the burned-out top floors.

Tributes were paid to rescue workers who saved around 50 people on Monday night, February 4, some of whom had climbed on to the roofs of adjacent buildings to escape the inferno.

The fire started at about 1:00 am (0000 GMT) and was only brought under control more than 5 hours later by around 200 firefighters backed by 100 fire engines.

“At windows, people were yelling ‘Help, help!’ everyone was panicking,” witness Humberto Ribas, who works in a building opposite, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Another local, who gave his name as Nicolas, said he initially thought a fight had broken out when he heard a woman screaming.

“She was screaming, screaming and we went outside and the building was already on fire,” he said.

Inner courtyard

But rescue efforts were initially hampered by the fact that the blaze was ripping through apartments inside an inner courtyard, with no vehicle access.

“The firemen had just arrived but what was amazing was that they were completely impotent,” Nicolas told AFP.

“They had the trucks, the big ladders, but they couldn’t do anything.”

Only once they had fitted extenders to their equipment, which needed to be carried into the courtyard were the firefighters able to begin rescue operations.

Several times the blaze appeared to have been brought under control before flaring up again, another witness told AFP.

“The building was very difficult to access,” Daniele Giazzi, mayor of the 16th district, told BFM television as she paid tribute to the rescue workers who toiled through the night.

Several local residents said the fire started after a dispute between neighbors in the block, which was built in the 1970s, unlike many of the older, classic Parisian buildings nearby.

“It’s one of the possibilities being examined by investigators,” deputy mayor of Paris Emmanuel Gregoire told RTL radio.

Sports stadiums

The wealthy neighborhood 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.

“France is waking up with emotion after the fire on rue Erlanger in Paris,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Thoughts for the victims. Thank you to the firefighters whose courage helped save many lives.”

The fire is the most deadly in Paris since 2005 when an arson attack at a building in the southeast 13th district killed 17 people, 14 of them children.

The worst fire in Paris since World War II was in April of the same year when 24 people perished at a building used for temporary accommodation after a fight between two residents.

Tuesday’s blaze follows a powerful gas explosion last month that killed 4 people in the city’s central 9th district and is likely to renew debate about fire safety in the City of Light.

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 home.

Standing at the police cordon, Jose Emilien was anxiously seeking news of his cousin and nephew who live on the sixth floor of the building.

“I called both of them,” the 46-year-old builder told AFP.

“They’re not picking up and I don’t have any news.” – Rappler.com