Paris’ deadliest fire in over a decade claimed 10 lives, sending fleeing residents to the roof to escape the flames that engulfed their apartment building before dawn Tuesday.
A 40-year-old female resident, said to have a history of psychiatric problems, was detained near the eight-story building in the quiet neighbourhood as police opened an investigation into voluntary arson resulting in death.
It is the deadliest fire in Paris since the April 2005 hotel fire near the capital’s famed Opera that killed 24 people.
French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to express that “France wakes up with emotion after the fire in rue Erlanger in Paris last night.”
WATCH: Woman in custody after deadly Paris apartment blaze
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was the highest-ranking official on the scene, as plumes of smoke speckled the sky.
“I want to salute the huge mobilization of the Paris firefighters,” he said. “More than 250 people arrived immediately and, throughout the night, saved over 50 people in truly exceptional conditions.”
Firefighters rescued some from the roof as well as others who had clambered out of windows to escape the flames.
Castaner said the blaze that started on the second floor had been extinguished, and that over 30 people were being treated for “relatively” light injuries.
“I heard a woman screaming in the street, crying and screaming for help,” said witness Jacqueline Ravier, who lives across the street. She saw a young man blackened by smoke and a woman motionless on the ground. She said flames were shooting out for hours from the top of the building and smoke-covered victims were fleeing.
She said shaken residents were brought to her building and the one next door while firefighters continued to fight the flames.
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“We feel the smoke,” she said. “What’s surprising is how long it lasted.”
City fire service spokesman Clement Cognon told The Associated Press that firefighters went door-to-door to ensure there are no more victims and to prevent residual fires.
“The situation was already dramatic when the firefighters arrived,” Cognon said.
Emergency workers are also seeking to shore up the building that was badly damaged after flames shot out of windows stretching across the upper floors, in images of the operation released by the fire service.
Prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters at the scene that authorities suspect it was a criminal act.
Castaner said the woman detained had “a history of psychiatric problems.”
Among the injured were at least eight firefighters, according to the Paris firefighters.
The building is on Rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement, one of the most high-end and calmest districts of Paris. It is close to the popular Bois de Boulogne park and about 1 kilometre (less than a mile) from the Roland Garros stadium that hosts the French Open tennis tournament and near the Parc de Princes stadium that’s home to Paris Saint-Germain, the country’s top soccer team.
Paris police said the street was blocked off and neighbouring buildings were also evacuated as the firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
The fire comes a month after a deadly explosion and blaze linked to a gas leak in a Paris bakery.
In September 2015, there was a fire in a northern neighbourhood that left eight dead.