Paris Hotel Fire
Paris hotel fire kills at least 20 people
Friday April 15, 2005
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"
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
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
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,"
"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,"
"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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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 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
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
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