Paris’ deadliest fire in more than a decade killed at least 10 people on Tuesday as flames engulfed a nine-story building, sending residents to the roof and scaling balconies to escape.
A 40-year-old woman who lived in the apartment building was arrested nearby and detained on suspicion of starting the fire in the early hours of the morning. Police have opened a criminal investigation into arson causing death.
Several neighbors said they heard the suspect and her neighbor, a firefighter on leave, arguing over the woman’s music before the blaze.
Police responding to the argument stopped at the woman’s apartment. The firefighter and his girlfriend told officers they were going to sleep somewhere else in peace and believed the neighbor had lost her mind and that one day there would be an accident because of her, according to a police report seen by the Associated Press.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, the 22-year-old firefighter said he returned to the building a few minutes later, shortly after midnight, hoping the woman was gone. Instead, he met her in the stairwell, which was already starting to smell of smoke.
“She wished me good luck, telling me that I liked the flames,” he said in the interview.
Another resident later told him that the woman had put paper and wood in front of her apartment door, the firefighter told the newspaper, which did not give her name.
Survivors described chaos of smoke and flames, and the firefighter said he ran upstairs in an attempt to evacuate the building.
A neighbor said she came out of her eighth-floor apartment and walked through the balconies to safety.
“I climbed several balconies, with nothing underneath, then I was pulled back into a corner. There were people climbing hand in hand to get to where I was and escape the flames, ”said a resident identified only as Claire, eyes wide in shock soon after her rescue.
Another resident, a policeman on leave, put on clothes and rang the doorbell, desperately trying to alert his neighbors.
“I couldn’t save everyone. I cannot forgive myself, ”the man identified as Fabrice told radio station France Info, adding that the smoke and flames prevented him from climbing higher than the fourth floor.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner spoke with journalists at the scene Tuesday morning as plumes of smoke dotted the sky.
“I want to salute the enormous mobilization of the Paris firefighters,” he said. “More than 250 people arrived immediately and, throughout the night, rescued more than 50 people under truly exceptional conditions.
It is the deadliest fire in the city since a hotel fire in April 2005 near the famous Paris Opera House, which killed 24 people.
Castaner said more than 30 people were being treated for relatively minor injuries; among the injured were at least eight firefighters.
Firefighters had ripped people off the roof and balconies before the blaze was put out by mid-morning.
Authorities suspect the fire was the result of a criminal act, Castaner said. Authorities said the suspect had “a history of psychiatric problems.”
A police patrol responding to a trash can fired around the same time the fire spotted the woman with her hand in another trash can, according to a second police report obtained by the Associated Press. She watched the fire engines rush towards the building, the document says.
The document says police put the woman under brief surveillance and arrested her at 12:45 a.m. after she tied a scarf around a car’s rearview mirror and put a lighter on it.
The building is rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement arrondissement, one of the quietest and most expensive neighborhoods in Paris. It is less than 1 mile from Roland Garros Stadium, which hosts the Roland-Garros tennis tournament, and close to Parc des Princes Stadium, home to Paris Saint-Germain, the best football team in the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter: “France is waking up with emotion after the fire on rue Erlanger in Paris last night.”