A fast moving fire believed to have been caused by the candles on a birthday cake killed 13 persons at a bar in the northwest French city of Rouen, even as it left at least six others injured, authorities said Saturday.
Reports suggest that the fire broke out in the basement of the Cuba Libre where the private party was being held on Friday night, even as it started to emit toxic gas in the early hours of Saturday.
Majority of the young people who died – aged between 18 and 25 – were killed by this gas. At least six people were rescued and received treatment for injuries.
No less than 80 firefighters battled the early Saturday blaze at the downtown Cuba Libre bar, and it’s not yet known how many people were inside at the time, Rouen Mayor Yvon Robert said, calling the fire “very brief.”
The birthday party was “a moment of joy for those involved that … ended tragically,” Robert said. A witness told French TV that there was panic in the bar: “Everybody wanted to get out.
“Unfortunately those who were in the basement didn’t have the time to get upstairs.”
A bar owner identified as Bruno by French TV BFMTV, who was close to the Cuba Libre when the fire broke, said customers were trapped inside because the fire moved too fast.
“It happened in three seconds,” he said. “Some customers exited on their hands and knees. Some of them tried to use a fire extinguisher, but it was too late.”
Vice prosecutor Laurent Labadie told The Associated Press that the first testimonies from survivors and the early police investigation indicated the “fire was completely accidental.”
“There was no explosion,” Labadie told the AP. “Candles on a birthday cake started the fire after the person who carried it tripped on the stairs leading to the basement.”
Labadie said sound-insulating material on the basement’s walls quickly ignited and party guests had no time to escape from the basement.
‘Identifications of the bodies were still ongoing,’ he said.