Sat | Aug 19, 2017

13 dead, six injured as fire hits bar in French city

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2016 | 8:00 AM
A man places a rose outside the bar where a fire broke in Rouen, western France, yesterday.

PARIS (AP):

A fast-moving fire that appeared to be accidental swept through a birthday party in a basement bar in northwest France, killing at least 13 people and injuring six others, authorities said yesterday.

More than 80 fire fighters battled the early morning blaze at the downtown Cuba Libre bar in the city of Rouen, Mayor Yvon Robert said, calling the fire "very brief."

The birthday party was "a moment of joy for those involved that ... ended tragically," Robert said.

Vice-prosecutor Laurent Labadie told The Associated Press that the first testimonies from survivors and the early police investigation indicated the "fire was completely accidental."

"There was no explosion," Labadie told the AP. "Candles on a birthday cake started the fire after the person who carried it tripped on the stairs leading to the basement."

Labadie said it's still unclear how many people were partying at the Cuba Libre club, adding that most of the dead were between 18 and 25 years old.

In a statement released by the French presidency, Francois Hollande expressed his "solidarity" with the victims' families and vowed that the ongoing judicial investigation will shed light on the " causes of this dramatic accident."

Labadie said sound-insulating material on the basement's walls quickly ignited and party guests had no time to escape from the basement.

At the scene of the fire, residents paid tribute to the victims by laying flowers. Images on French television from outside the bar showed a large ground-floor window broken open, burned red bar chairs and a tattered awning.

The fire - the deadliest in France since 2005 - came as the country is on maximum terror alert after two deadly attacks last month and was also the second recent tragedy to hit Rouen, a city in Normandy. A priest was slain by two Islamic State extremists in his church outside Rouen on July 26 and his funeral was held last Tuesday in Rouen Cathedral.