VAULX-EN-VELIN, France (AP) — Ten people, including five children as young as 3, died after a nighttime fire ravaged an eight-story apartment building Friday in one of the French city of Lyon’s poorest suburbs, local authorities said.
The cause of the blaze, France’s deadliest residential fire in years, was under investigation, including to establish whether it had a criminal origin.
Witness reports carried on French media described scenes of horror, including residents smashing windows to try to climb out of the building and a mother throwing her child out of a window to be safely caught by a person on the ground.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin arrived quickly at the scene in the small suburban town of Vaulx-en-Velin, some 470 kilometers (290 miles) southeast of Paris, reflecting the scale of the tragedy. He praised the 170 firefighters who mobilized after flames tore through the center of the modern apartment block.
(They intervened) “within 12 minutes at 3 a.m. and were able to save 15 people by taking considerable risks for their own lives,” he said.
Despite the rapid response, a further 14 people were injured, four of them seriously, according to the prefecture for the Rhone region. The fire has since been extinguished.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw several fire trucks and a security perimeter set up around the area, and residents and traumatized neighbors with their children assembling in a car park opposite the building.
The five children who perished were between the ages of 3 and 15. Counseling centers were set up at two local schools that authorities think will be the most impacted by the deadly fire. Lyon academy rector Olivier Dugrip said students from the schools were among the victims.
Authorities said that they have started working on plans to relocate an estimated 88 displaced residents.
“Families are living a deep tragedy, on a scale we have never known,” Vaulx-en-Velin Mayor Helene Geoffroy said. Her small town of 43,000 inhabitants is among the most impoverished areas in the Rhone region.
Darmanin, who was accompanied on his visit to the site by French Housing Minister Olivier Klein, was already due in Lyon on Friday to present the security plan for Sunday’s World Cup final between Argentina and France.
Messages of support came from far and wide, including from French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and soccer team Olympique Lyonnais, which collectively expressed its “thoughts” for the victims of the fire.
“We send our deepest condolences to their loved ones,” the Lyon club tweeted.
The blaze is the deadliest house fire in France since 2019, when an arson attack in a posh Paris district killed 10 people and injured 32.
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