15 Die in Apt. Fire Near Paris

September 5, 2005

A fire in an 18-story apartment building in the Paris suburb of L’Haÿ-les-Roses has left 15 people dead, including 3 children, and seven others in serious condition. The blaze, which investigators say may have been deliberately set, broke out early Sunday morning. Although it was quickly contained, toxic fumes, spread by the fire, overwhelmed a number of people.

The tragedy is the latest to hit the French capital, but, unlike the other recent blazes (See IJ Web site Aug. 26 and 30), this one occurred in a well maintained HLM (public housing) in a middle class suburb south of the Paris. Although a number of the victims were reportedly from Haiti, the condition of the building bore no resemblance to the dilapidated buildings, housing primarily African immigrants, in deplorable conditions, that were the scene of the earlier fires.

Authorities have begun closing down a number of sites in deemed to be in an unsafe condition and are moving the residents to temporary facilities outside the capital.

Police have held and interrogated three teen-age girls, whom they suspect caused the blaze by setting fires in letterboxes. The investigation is continuing. Authorities have also evacuated the 150 remaining residents from the site, as it no longer meets safety standards.

This latest tragedy has added fuel to the ongoing polemic about responsibility for the fires. Conservative favorite Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister and potential presidential candidate, has called for stricter enforcement of the laws both on safety standards and on illegal immigration – essentially blaming the victims. The Socialist opposition has fired back that government neglect is the main cause of the disasters, and has promised more humane treatment of undocumented immigrants.

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