AT least 14 disabled people have been killed in a blaze at a Christmas workshop in Germany’s Black Forest.
Eyewitnesses spoke of the workers trapped behind windows screaming for help as smoke and flames billowed behind them, at the Saint Georg workshop in Titisee-Neustadt in the heart of Germany’s famed tourist region. There were also reports of an explosion inside the building, possibly gas or chemical canisters, igniting in a storeroom, which is one theory about what triggered the fire which rapidly spread out of control.
At least seven people were taken to hospital for treatment for burns and smoke inhalation.
“The place is filled with choking smoke and there are casualties,” said a police spokesman. “It is hellish in there.”
Dozens of police and fire crews – some 30 fire engines from all neighbouring brigades in the area – raced to the scene of the blaze.
Several workers were pulled from the building wearing breathing apparatus but police spoke of “numerous deaths” in the fire, confirming at least 14 fatalities.
Operated by the Catholic charity Caritas, there were around 50 people in the workshop making wooden Christmas themed toys and objects when the fire broke out. The workers are both mentally and physically handicapped.
The workers also pack sweets, make boxes and assemble electrical items in other areas of the workshop. In all 120 people are employed there.
According to initial reports the blaze broke out at 2.00pm yesterday on the roof of the building. A neighbouring haulage firm yard was turned into an emergency rescue centre where dazed and confused survivors were taken.
As darkness began to fall, thick black smoke continued to pour out of the building as rescue crews went in time after time to look for three missing workers.