Bar fire kills 13 at birthday party
A FIRE sparked by birthday cake candles tore through a bar in northern France, killing at least 13 people in the nation’s deadliest blaze in more than a decade, investigators said.
Through the shattered front windows of the Au Cuba Libre bar in Rouen melted stools and scorched liquor bottles were visible, as tearful mourners hugged each other and brought flowers to the scene.
The dead were aged between 16 and 25. One of the six injured was in life-threatening condition in the Rouen hospital.
Authorities said the bar had been crowded with young partygoers on August 6.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed “deep sadness at the tragedy that claimed 13 young lives”.
Local deputy prosecutor Laurent Labadie said the blaze, which began around midnight in the bar’s basement, was triggered accidentally.
“Someone came down with a birthday cake with candles and fell down the stairs,” Mr Labadie said, citing initial investigation findings.
“The candles were thrown onto the walls and ceiling, where there was soundproofing material. There was an immediate conflagration and gas was released.”
Firefighters were soon on the scene but those inside the bar were battling deadly fumes as well as the flames.
Police said that the fire had ignited polystyrene on the ceiling of the basement room, releasing a toxic mix of gases that poisoned the victims.
One witness, who gave her name as Stephanie, 36, described the moment the fire took hold.
“I was at the bar on the ground floor having a drink, when we saw the flames – it was like a flame-thrower, everything happened so fast,” she told reporters.
French President Francois Hollande voiced sympathy for the victims’ families.
The investigation will focus on whether building safety rules were flounted, particularly in relation to fire exits and flammable materials.
The bar, in a busy part of town and no more than 200 metres from the River Seine, was very popular with young people.
The blaze was France’s deadliest since September 2005 when an apartment building fire in the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses killed 18 people.
Workers inspect damage to Au Cuba Libre bar after a fire in Rouen on August 6.
An envelope addressed to ‘The family of the American lady’ lies among floral tributes left near a crime scene in London’s Russell Square where a man went on a stabbing spree on August 3, killing US national Darlene Horton.