Published August 31, 2005
PARIS – French President Jacques Chirac (search) promised "strong initiatives" to help families in inadequate housing, and all havens for squatters were ordered shut down Tuesday in Paris (search) after a second deadly fire in a week at an apartment house for immigrants.
The fire late Monday struck a dilapidated apartment building in the heart of historic Paris, killing seven African immigrants, firefighters said. Four children were among the dead, including a 6-year-old thrown by his pregnant mother from a fifth-floor window in an effort to save him.
It was the second deadly fire in a week at buildings housing immigrants in France's capital and the third since April — bringing the death toll to 48 and focusing new criticism on immigrant housing.
Chirac expressed his "horror" over the fire and promised "strong initiatives" soon to help families in inadequate housing.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (search) ordered all squatter buildings — like the one that burned on Tuesday — shut down "because these are human beings housed in unacceptable conditions."
Paris' police headquarters said it would begin evacuating the city's "most dangerous" buildings in the coming days in an urgent effort to prevent new fires.
The six-story building on a narrow street near Paris' old Jewish quarter was known to be "dangerous," said Pierre Aidenbaum, mayor of the 3rd Arrondissement (search) where the building was located. The city intervened six months ago to have the building bought and had begun searching for a place to relocate the families there.
The fire late Monday apparently started on the second floor, home to between 40 and 60 people from the Ivory Coast (search), about half of them in France illegally, police and city officials said.
The body of the woman who threw her child from a window was found in her fifth-story apartment, beside that of her other child, aged 3. The son she tried to save died at a hospital.
Some 130 firefighters took about two hours to extinguish the fire. Inside, they found other bodies on the fifth floor — a woman pregnant with twins, her husband and their two children, police said.
Two men who jumped from upper-floor windows to escape the flames were seriously injured.
Police said they believed the blaze was accidental, noting numerous fire hazards. Residents had pirated electricity from a nearby building. Gas cylinders and mattresses cluttering floors had fueled the flames, police said.
The deaths triggered angry calls for action on behalf of the needy and cast light on the plight of France's growing immigrant populations — and the precarious conditions in which an estimated 2 million people live in France.
The building that burned Monday lacked running water, and neighbors said it was common to see squatters taking water from a spigot on the street.
Andre Privateer, an American who lives nearby, recalled seeing them "barefoot in the dead of winter. They used to fill up big white jugs" at a fountain by a bus stop a short walk from the elegant Places des Vosges (search).
The previous Paris fire, on Friday, killed 17 African immigrants, including 14 children. The rundown, overcrowded building had been requisitioned by the government to serve as temporary low-income housing; it was filled with families waiting for placement in state-subsidized apartments.
Officials raised the possibility Monday that the fire Friday was caused by human action, suggesting arson or an accident.
In April, 24 people died in a fire at a budget hotel that housed African immigrants near Paris' old Opera.