Fatal fire in another Paris immigrant building

Seven people were killed and three seriously injured in a fire that swept through a building housing African immigrants in central Paris, fire services and police said on Tuesday.

The blaze comes four days after 17 Africans were killed in similar circumstances in the French capital.

One of those killed, a child, died in hospital, while the bodies of the six others were found in the building, firefighters said.

Fourteen people were injured, three of them seriously, in the fire that swept through a squat in a dilapidated building in the Marais district in the third arrondissement, or district, of the city late on Monday.

About 100 firefighters and 30 vehicles tackled the fire, which broke out on the first floor of the apartment building used as a squat by African families in the central third district.

On Friday, shortly after midnight, 17 people were killed, 14 of them children, when fire destroyed a seven-storey apartment block, home to 130 mainly African immigrants, in the 13th district of south-eastern Paris.

It was the second major fire in Paris this year in a building housing immigrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa. In April, a hotel near the capital’s old opera house and major department stores went up in flames, killing 24 of the 79 residents, again mostly children.

Monday’s fire started at about 10pm local time for unknown reasons in the stairwell of a five-storey building in the Marais district, a squat ready for renovation that housed Africans, the fire service said.

The fire was brought under control at 11.30pm, it said.

“Twelve Ivorian families were living in the squat,” the mayor of the third arrondissement, Pierre Aidenbaum, told reporters at the scene, adding: “For years, people had been saying the living conditions there were dreadful.”

The 12 families, totalling about 40 people, were to have been rehoused in September so that the building could be renovated, he said.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe visited the people evacuated from the building who were taken to a nearby hotel to spend the night.

“There is a very serious problem with insalubrious buildings in Paris,” said Delanoe, recalling that municipal services had found about 1 000 of them at the beginning of his mandate.

Delanoe called for authorities in surrounding regions and the nation as a whole to become aware of the problem and for those sheltering fewer poor people to help shoulder the burden.

Rene Dutrey, chairperson of the semipublic company Siemp that owns the building, described it as one of the 423 worst insalubrious buildings in the capital.

“The question is not of money but the offer of homes. As long as the offer of lodgings is not there, we will be obliged to pick up the people who burn in buildings,” he added.

Jean-Baptiste Eyraud, chairperson of the pressure group Right to Homes, went to the scene of the blaze and announced a demonstration in Paris on Saturday in support of the homeless and those living in poor conditions.

Delanoe’s deputy, Yves Contassor of the Green party, said some of the people in the building who did not have residence documents had not been offered new accommodation pending the renovation work.

“We must get away from this, stop treating people like in the 18th century,” he said.

Contassor said the building did not have running water, and the residents had to use a standpipe in the street.

Bambaya Coumba, an Ivorian who lived in the ravaged building, was returning home when he saw the flames and people jumping from the windows.

“We had been talking a lot about [Friday’s] fire in the 13th district; we were very frightened because our building was in poor shape,” he said. “We were still discussing it today.”—Sapa-AFP

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