EIGHT people have died in an apartment block fire in northern Paris.
Police have detained a man in his 30s “who might have been at the scene” amid suspicions that the blaze, at the foot of the famed Montmartre hill, was started intentionally, officials said.
The arrest was made on the basis of eyewitness accounts and CCTV footage.
A huge blaze broke out in rue Myra, close to the Eurostar hub and the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre, shortly after 4:30am.
Some people died leaping out of windows to flee what appeared to be the deadliest blaze in the French capital in a decade. The dead included two children.
Four survivors were taken to hospital, said interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.
Firefighters extinguished a small paper fire around midnight in the building, then were called back two hours later for a much bigger blaze, fire department spokesman Gabriel Plus said.
When the firefighters returned, Mr Plus said they were “immediately confronted with a disaster of an exceptional scale”.
“It’s clear that when you have two call-outs in the same night . . . this could be a malicious act,” interior ministry spokesman Mr Brandet said.
People screamed for help from inside the building, several windows were blown out and two people who had already jumped from windows were on the ground motionless, he added. Mr Brandet said the fire began in a ground floor stairwell.
Mr Plus said it quickly engulfed all five floors of the building and consumed several apartments and the stairwell, forcing people to flee out of windows. More than 100 firefighters were required to extinguish the blaze.
“I was sleeping and I heard cries of people calling for help,” said a witness named only as Florent, who lives in the same building.
“I opened the door to see the damage . . . and I went to get a bucket of water in the panic. Then I reflected and thought the flames were too big to stop them by myself”.
Local residents posted images of the fire, showing flames bursting from the roof and upper storeys of the building. One neighbour said: “It was violent. I’ve never seen anything like that, except on television.”
A man was detained on suspicion of involvement in the fire, the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed. French president François Hollande issued a statement promising all necessary efforts “to shed light on the drama”.
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it was “too early to determine the causes of this tragedy”.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo asked whether it could have been prompted by electrical or gas problems. She said the building had been in a good condition before the fire.
The property was a residential building which had not had problems before, she said, adding that it was not a place for low-income families and had not been in a rundown state.
People who were unable to return to their homes were being assisted by the authorities, the mayor said.
It was one of the deadliest fires in Paris since a 2005 blaze in a hotel housing African immigrants that left 24 people dead, including 11 children.