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Paris Hotel Fire

Paris hotel fire kills at least 20 people

Friday April 15, 2005

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At least 20 people, including 10 children, died and more than 50 were injured yesterday when a fire swept through a hotel in central Paris used mainly by backpackers and newly arrived immigrants.

A city police spokesman said the death toll from the worst blaze in Paris in 30 years could rise because 11 of the injured - who included US, Portuguese, Senegalese, Ivorian, Tunisian and Ukrainian citizens - were in a "very serious" condition.

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Eyewitnesses said some victims screamed for help from the windows as flames tore through the six-storey, one-star Paris-Opera hotel behind the Galeries Lafayette department store before dawn.

Others climbed on to the roof, and some threw themselves from upper floors on to the street.


"There was only one staircase and the fire broke Seven of those who jumped subsequently died, said Laurent Vibert, a fire service spokesman.

"You don't often see such fires in Paris," he said.

out on the lower floors. There was no explosion."

The blaze was believed to have started in a first-floor breakfast room at about 2.20am, he added.

The cosmetics department of Galeries Lafayette was transformed into an emergency medical centre to treat the wounded for burns, multiple fractures, asphyxiation and shock before they were taken

to hospital.

Eight hours after the fire was brought under control smoke could still be seen seeping from the blackened windows of the hotel's top two floors.

Chakib San, a neighbour, told a radio station that he had been woken by screaming at about 2.30am.

"I ran in to the street just in time to see three people, including a young child, jump from a window," he said.

"They hit the ground with a terrible thump and lay without moving. Everyone was screaming; there were bodies in the road.

"I got a ladder with a woman from the next-door hotel and we managed to get a little girl out from one window before the fire brigade arrived."

About 300 firefighters and emergency workers were called to the blaze, along with more than 50 fire engines and eight ambulances, officials said.

President Jacques Chirac expressed horror at the tragedy. The interior minister, Dominique de Villepin, and the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, visited the scene.

Many of the 79 people staying in the hotel were African. Paris city hall, various social services departments and two charities had rented rooms there to provide temporary accommodation for 14 immigrant families, the mayor of the city's 9th arrondissement said.

Alfred Millot, head of the fire service at Galeries Lafayette, said he was alerted by the store's security staff.

"We did what we could with our own equipment and hoses," he said.

"I got there within minutes and people were already throwing themselves from the windows. I saw bodies on the ground, windows ablaze, people screaming for help.

"In situations like that you can shout 'Stay calm' as loud as you like but people will still jump. Some on the first floor threw their children out."

Prostitutes who work in some of the district's small cheap hotels were among the first on the scene.

A woman who identified herself as Laure told the media that she had helped at least three people out of a window.

Christophe Varenne, the chief of the Paris fire brigade, said the death toll would have been "a very great deal lower" if the residents had not panicked and jumped out of the hotel's windows.

The Paris public prosecutor said a manslaughter investigation had begun

Some area high school students saw that fire firsthand. A dozen students from Marinette High School, eleven from Menominee, Michigan, and two from Wausaukee, along with three chaperones, were in Paris Thursday night on the final leg of a two-week trip. They were staying at a hotel right next door to the Paris Opera Hotel.

John LaCourt's wife is one of the chaperones. He received a call last night from the travel company informing him of the fire next door to where the group was staying, and telling him not to worry. Two hours later he finally got through to his wife.

"She said, 'The French were very organized, they got us out quickly and to a safe place," said LaCourt.

"She didn't say a lot about it, said, 'There was a fire next door. I'm okay, the kids are okay.' She didn't describe the vastness of it. I didn't know until I read the paper this morning there were 20 people killed."

LaCourt then started calling parents of students on the trip. Despite overnight coverage on cable news channels, most were in bed and none knew what happened.

LaCourt also phoned Marinette principal Dave Johnson who sent an e-mail to all staff this morning asking them to inform students.

Johnson said there was great relief around the school Friday but still concern for the students on the trip.

"We don't know at this point exactly how much of the fire and the deaths and injuries that had been involved with that that our students observed, so Monday we will have counselors here available," Johnson said.

The group is scheduled to return Friday night, flying in to Austin Straubel International Airport at 10:15. Their families will be there to pick them up and undoubtedly the hugs will be a little tighter

Drunken party blamed for deadly Paris hotel fire

PARIS - The fire at the Paris Opera hotel on Friday, which claimed 24 lives and left dozens injured, started with a drunken, drug-laced party held by the night watchman and several friends, the Justice Ministry and survivors said Tuesday.

It spread quickly up the hotel's only staircase, trapping some people in windowless rooms.

The Paris prosecutor's office announced Tuesday that a young woman taken into custody on Monday had said that she might have started the fire, which the city authorities said was the deadliest in Paris since a subway fire killed more than 80 people in 1903.

The tragedy has thrown light on more than the uncertain safety of the cramped, one-star hotels that dot this city.

It has also illuminated a dim corner of Europe's broader illegal immigration debate: what to do with the continent's swelling tide of undocumented immigrants.

The hotel was part of a circuit of low-end lodgings contracted by government-financed agencies to house asylum-seekers or immigrants whose requests for residency had been denied.

"As they have no legal status and we have to put them somewhere, we put them in hotels while they are waiting for a permanent solution," said Xavier Emmanuelli, who heads the quasi-governmental agency SAMU Social.

Like most European countries, France rarely resorts to deportation, so many asylum-seekers hang on, often for years.

The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons says France is the world's leading destination for asylum-seekers, with more than 65,600 requests in 2004.

SAMU Social handles about 3,000 such people in Paris, half of them children, Emmanuelli said. Through these agencies, he said, the state feeds, houses and clothes 9,000 to 10,000 immigrants lacking papers in Paris alone. "It's difficult to deport as soon as these people have kids in school," he added.

So far, France has offered residency to illegal immigrants only case by case, but offers of residency to large numbers by Italy and Spain have increased pressure on other European countries to do the same. "I think we will reach that point in France," Emmanuelli said.

The woman taken into custody, described as the watchman's girlfriend, said she had made up the hotel's breakfast room for a party with a dozen candles, some on the floor.

Later that night, after a violent argument with her drunken boyfriend, she said, she knocked clothing from a table onto the floor where candles were burning and left the building. The watchman, caught in the fire, is now in a coma.

Prosecutors have started an inquiry for possible involuntary manslaughter charges. The woman was expected to appear before a magistrate to be placed under official investigation, a step short of pressing charges.

Eleven of the dead were children.

Woman admits starting hotel fire
April 19, 2005 - 6:44PM

A woman has admitted to "accidentally" setting a Paris hotel fire that killed 22 people, half of them children, French police said today.

It was "an accidental fire", said police chief Pierre Mutz in Paris, where authorities yesterday detained the unidentified woman "who admitted to having caused the fire".

The inferno early Friday, the deadliest in the French capital in 32 years, destroyed the Paris-Opera hotel, located behind the upmarket Galeries Lafayette department store and near the historic Garnier opera house. Seventy-nine people, most of them African immigrants, were in the 32-room hotel when the fire broke out, although it was only licensed to accommodate 61. At least 31 people were injured.

"A young woman admitted she had accidentally caused this fire," the Paris police source said.

Paris police chief Pierre Mutz broke the news early today to the Paris city council, the source said.

The woman - the girlfriend of one of the hotel's night watchmen - had been held for questioning since yesterday morning, the source said.

Police had said over the weekend that the cause of the fire at the budget hotel - used both as temporary public housing for needy families and by bargain-hunting tourists - was "undoubtedly accidental" rather than caused by arson.

The Droit au Logement (Right to Housing) association argued that putting needy families into tourist hotels was a last resort which was expensive for the authorities, and unsuitable and dangerous for homeless families.

Police said the death toll rose to 22 over the weekend. About 50 people were injured, including US, Portuguese, Senegalese, Ivorian, Tunisian and Ukrainian nationals.

Some victims tried to save themselves by jumping from windows while others tried to save their children by throwing them from upper floors after the fire broke out in the middle of the night.

Paris prosecutors launched an inquiry for involuntary manslaughter last week.

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