Blaze in Paris apartment building leaves 8 dead

PARIS, Sep 2 (AP) — Eight people died in an apartment fire early Wednesday at the foot of Paris' famed Montmartre hill, and police are investigating whether the fire was started intentionally, officials said. Some died leaping out of windows to flee what appeared to be the deadliest blaze in the French capital in a decade.

The dead included two children, and four survivors were hospitalized, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters at the scene.

Firefighters extinguished a small paper fire around after midnight in the building, then were called back two hours later for a much bigger fire, fire department spokesman Gabriel Plus told The Associated Press. It's unclear what caused both fires, and whether there was any link.

When the firefighters returned, Plus said, "We were immediately confronted with a disaster of an exceptional scale."

People screamed for help from inside the building, and two people who had already jumped from windows were on the ground motionless in front of the building, he said. Several windows had been blown out because of the fire."

Brandet said the fire began in a ground floor stairwell. Plus said it quickly engulfed all five floors of the building and consumed several apartments and the stairwell, forcing people to flee out windows.

More than 100 firefighters were required to extinguish the blaze.

"I was sleeping and I heard cries of people calling for help," said Florent, who lives in a different entrance of the same building. He spoke on condition that his last name not be used because of security concerns.

"I opened the door to see the damage ... and I went to get a bucket of water in the panic. Then I reflected and thought the flames were too big to stop them by myself," and instead called the fire department, he said.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve were on the scene early Wednesday. Hidalgo, asked whether the fire could have been prompted by electrical or gas problems, said the building had not had any previous problems and had been in good condition.

Even French President Francois Hollande issued a statement about the fire, promising all necessary efforts "to shed light on the drama."

It was one of the deadliest fires in Paris since the 2005 fire in a hotel housing African immigrants that left 24 people dead including 11 children.

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