Police have arrested a woman on suspicion of starting a fire that swept through an eight-storey apartment building in Paris, killing at least 10 people and injuring 30 others, including eight fire fighters.
The woman, who lived in the building, was taken into custody as flames swept rapidly through the block in the French capital’s 16th arrondissement, not far from the Parc des Princes stadium, the home of Paris Saint-Germain football club.
Officials hailed the heroism of fire fighters who had to dismantle their ladders and carry them by hand to reach the building, which was at the end of a courtyard with no direct road access.
Without hydraulic machinery, fire crews were forced to unfurl the ladders piece by piece and hook them on to the burning structure to rescue desperate residents from the upper floors.
It was the worst fire in Paris in 14 years. In the Assemblée National, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said fire fighters had “entirely risked their own lives to save 50 people” from the apartment block.
Police are holding a woman in her 40s who was arrested outside the building shortly after the fire started. They are investigating reports that it was started deliberately.
Neighbours reported hearing the woman arguing with another resident who had complained about loud music from her flat late on Monday night. The police were called but officers left without taking any action. The fire started shortly afterwards.
The man who called the police, an off-duty Paris fire officer, said he came face to face with the suspect as she left the building. “She had tried to break my window and door in revenge … when I came across her she told me good luck and said I was a fireman so I must like flames,” he told Le Parisien. “Then I smelled something burning and I realised she’d set the whole floor alight.” He said the woman ran off and he raised the alarm.
He later saw the woman outside, “trying to set fire to two dustbins”.
The Paris prosecutor, Rémy Heitz, said a criminal investigation had been opened. “A person, a woman, who lived in the building has been arrested,” Heitz said. “At this stage, with what we know, the incident appears to be criminal … This person was arrested in the night not far from the fire [and] she is in custody,” Heitz added. The woman had a history of mental health problems, he said.
The fire was reported at about 1am on Tuesday and spread quickly. More than 50 people were thought to be in the building at the time, many of whom became trapped. Some scrambled on to the roof to escape the smoke and flames, while others shouted for help from windows.
It took about 250 fire fighters almost five hours to bring the fire under control. “It was a particularly violent fire,” Capt. Clement Cognon of the Paris fire service told BFM TV. “The fire has damaged the structure of the building and until we can check, we can’t rule out the risk of it collapsing,” he added.
Emmanuel Grégoire, an official with the city government, said the victims were residents. The fire began on the upper floors and spread to other parts of the building, he added.
The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said on Twitter that the city was in mourning. The fire comes less than a month after a gas blast in central Paris killed four people, including two fire fighters.
In April 2005, a fire in a hotel near the Paris Opera housing many immigrant families killed 24 people, including 11 children.
- The Guardian of London