Paris fire: Ten dead as woman arrested for 'revenge arson attack on fireman neighbour' at apartment block

Henry Samuel

At least 10 people died and 37 were injured in an overnight blaze at an apartment block in Paris that police are treating as possible arson.

At least one of the victims is a "young child", according to the local mayor.

The fire on the upper floors of the building in the rue Erlanger in the upmarket 16th district of southwest Paris is the most deadly in the capital since 2005.

Videos from the scene showed flames leaping out of top floor windows and firemen climbing flimsy ladders to rescue terrified residents, some dressed only in pyjamas, from the top of the eight-storey block.

Described by one rescue worker as a "scene of incredible violence", the blaze left 37 people - including six firefighters - injured and at least 10 people dead, the fire service said.

"One person who lives in the building has been arrested. She's a 40-year-old woman who has prior psychological problems," Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said from the scene on Tuesday where smoke could still be seen rising from the area. "She apparently had a row with neighbours which ended badly and she set fire to the building," he added.

Seven people are reported dead in the blaze

An investigation has been opened into the criminal charge of causing death by arson amid fears that the toll could climb further.

"The toll is provisional. Reconnaissance is still underway," said captain Valérian Fuet, Paris fire brigade spokesman.

According to sources close to the inquiry, the suspect was arrested in a state of inebriation outside the building in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The suspect's neighbour, a professional fireman named only Quentin, 22,  told Le Parisien he thought this was an act of revenge after his girlfriend had knocked on her door to ask the woman to turn down loud music. 

"A neighbour told me that there was paper in front of my door with wood. She must have set fire to my place to take revenge. When I crossed her (in the stairwell), she wished me 'good luck', telling me I was a fireman and liked flames."

Only afterwards did he realise she had set fire to the entire floor. He said he had rang the police before the fire about her aggressive behaviour. They took 40 minutes to arrive and then said it was not "urgent".

"The police came and went and now there are (10) dead," he told Le Parisien.

"At first we thought it was a fight, we could hear a woman screaming really loud," a local resident who gave his name as Nicolas told AFP.

"She was screaming, screaming and we went outside and the building was already on fire. The firemen had just arrived but what was amazing was that they were completely impotent.

"They had the trucks, the big ladders, but they couldn't do anything," he said.

Only once they had fitted extenders to their equipment, which needed to be carried manually through a courtyard to reach the blaze as the building does not look onto the main road, were they able to begin rescue operations. 

Several times the blaze appeared to have been brought under control before starting again, another witness told AFP.

"The building was very difficult to access," the mayor of the 16th district, Daniele Giazzi, told BFM television as she paid tribute to the young rescue workers who had toiled through the night.

Several local residents said that the fire had been started because of a dispute between neighbours in the block, which was built in the 1970s unlike many of the older, classic Parisian buildings.

"We'll let the police give further information, but it's one of the possibilities being examined by investigators," deputy mayor of Paris Emmanuel Gregoire told RTL radio.

Firefighters were seen edging along the outside of the building 

Another local resident, 46-year-old builder Jose Emilien, was standing at a police cordon anxiously seeking news of his cousin and nephew who lived on the sixth floor of the building.

"I called both of them," he told AFP. "They're not picking up and I don't have any news."

The wealthy neighbourhood is home to several private schools and lies on the edge of the vast Bois de Boulogne park.

It is close to the stadium of football club Paris Saint-Germain, the Parc des Princes, and the Roland Garros complex used for the French Open tennis tournament.

"France is waking up with emotion after the fire on the rue Erlanger in Paris," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted. "Thoughts for the victims. Thank you to the firefighters whose courage helped save many lives."

A woman has been arrested over the deadly blaze Credit: BENOIT MOSER/ AFP

The fire is the city's most deadly since 2005 when an arson at a building in the 13th district killed 17 people, including 14 children.

And the blaze follows a powerful gas explosion last month that killed four people in the city's central 9th district.

Fire service spokesman Captain Clement Cognon told AFP that firefighters were yet to fully search the upper floors of the block.

"We had to carry out many rescues, notably for around a dozen people who had taken refuge on the roofs. In total about 50 people were evacuated by firefighters," he added.

Two adjacent buildings were also evacuated as a precaution and local officials were on site to help find housing for residents who could not return to their homes.

Several streets were still cordoned off by police and fire crews on Tuesday morning.