A fast-moving fire swept through a birthday party in the basement of a bar in the north-west French city of Rouen, killing at least 13 people and injuring six others.
More than 80 firefighters battled the blaze early yesterday at the downtown bar in the city in Normandy, Rouen Mayor Yvon Robert said after the blaze was extinguished.
The fire was “totally accidental,” Robert told Europe 1 radio, mentioning a possible gas explosion “from the heat in a basement room doubtless too small for the number of people present”.
It was not known how many people were partying at the Cuba Libre club. The area has been blocked off and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a judicial investigation has been opened to discover the cause of the fire.
He gave an initial count of 13 dead and six injured in the fire, which started after midnight on Friday. The prefecture, which runs the region, said one of the six injured was in a life-threatening condition.
Images from outside the bar on French television showed a large ground-floor window broken open, burned red bar chairs and a tattered awning in front.
The mayor said the fire was “very brief”.
The birthday party was “a moment of joy for those involved that ... ended tragically,” Robert said.
The local Paris-Normandie newspaper said the fire started in the basement of the bar, which was rented for the evening for the birthday celebration.
The paper said the ceiling, which was covered in sound-insulating material, quickly ignited when candles were lit.
The paper quoted the deputy prosecutor as denying initial reports of an explosion. Laurent Labadie was quoted as saying that the noise reported by neighbours was the sound of windows exploding from the heat.
The bar fire came as France is on maximum terror alert after two deadly attacks last month. A priest was murdered in his church outside Rouen on 26 July, less than two weeks after a Bastille Day attack on the promenade in Nice, in which 85 people died. Both attacks have been claimed by Islamic State.
While the cause of the fire in Rouen remains to be determined, polystyrene or other insulation materials have been blamed for previous deadly blazes, including a nightclub fire in Bucharest last year which killed 27, and a fire in a club in Brazil in 2013 which killed 241.