VAULX-EN-VELIN, FRANCE (AP) – Ten people, including five children died after a nighttime fire ravaged an eight-storey apartment building yesterday in one of the city of Lyon’s poorest suburbs, French authorities said.
The cause of the blaze – the country’s deadliest in years – is under investigation, including to establish whether it had a criminal origin.
A further 14 people were injured in the tragedy in the small suburban town of Vaulx-en-Velin, four of them seriously, according to the prefecture for the Rhone region. Some 170 firefighters were mobilised after flames tore through the centre of the modern apartment block shortly after 3am. The fire has since been extinguished.
Witness reports carried on French media describe scenes of horror, including residents smashing windows to try to climb out of the building, and one mother throwing her child out of the window to be safely caught by a person on the ground.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw several fire trucks and a security perimeter set up around the area, and residents and traumatised neighbours with their children assembling in a car park opposite the building.
Counselling centres have been set up in two local schools, authorities said. Lyon academy rector Olivier Dugrip said that pupils from these schools were among the victims of the fire.
Vaulx-en-Velin, a small town of 43,000 inhabitants, is among the most impoverished areas in the Rhone region.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that he would travel to the town, which is 470 kilometres southeast of Paris.
Darmanin had aready been due to travel to Lyon yesterday to present the security plan for tomorrow’s World Cup final between Argentina and France.
Darmanin will be accompanied on his visit to the site by Housing Minister Olivier Klein.
The fire is the deadliest in France since 2019, when an arson attack in a posh Paris district killed 10 people and injured 32.
Tributes and messages of support have come from far and wide, including from football 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.