PARIS – An argument between teenage girls appeared to be behind a weekend fire in a suburban Paris housing project that killed 16 people, judicial officials said Monday.
Four girls were to appear before a judge Tuesday in connection with the fire in the high-rise apartment building in the town of L'Hay-les-Roses (search) that killed 13 adults and three children, the officials said.
At least three of the teens confessed to starting the blaze that began in the lobby mailroom, the officials said on customary condition of anonymity. The girls had lit the fire as part of an effort to settle scores with a former friend, the officials said, without elaborating.
"This is really the kind of event that leaves you flabbergasted," Mayor Patrick Seve (search) told France-Inter radio. "I'm speechless, revolted," he said, adding: "we now see it was really more a problem of incivility than of criminal acts. It's clear it ended in a dramatic way."
The fire was the third deadly blaze in the Paris area in nine days. The toll rose to 16 after a man died Sunday in a hospital. Five people were being treated Monday for serious injuries, officials said.
Two Italians — a mother and daughter who were longtime France residents — were among those killed, Italian state-run news agency ANSA reported.
The suspects were aged 15, 16, 17 and 18, the officials said. A fifth girl originally taken in for questioning was later released, they said.
The fire is believed to have raged up a stairwell and climbed at least three floors in the 19-story building. Some residents jumped from windows as the blaze flared through the lobby.
France has been grappling with ways to prevent deadly building fires that have erupted in and near Paris since April. After Sunday's inferno, a total of at least 64 people had died.
Authorities were investigating possible arson in an Aug. 26 fire that killed 14 African children and three adults in a run-down Paris apartment building. Three days later, another fire killed seven in a building used by squatters.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (search) suggested on French television Sunday night that copycats were at work.
"Each time there is a news story, sometimes that gives ideas to people who then turn into criminals," Sarkozy said, promising severe punishment for anyone found guilty of arson.
In response to the fires, the government has announced plans to quickly build more low-income apartments — requisitioning some land to do so — and has begun evacuating buildings considered dangerous.