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Paris apartment fire claims 7 lives

Seven people died when a blaze broke out in a rundown Paris apartment building where African immigrants were living, firefighters said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The apartment building was so run down its owner didn’t want it anymore. But like two other Paris buildings recently gutted by deadly fires, it was home to dozens of poor Africans, many of whom were illegal immigrants.

Firefighters said seven people, including three children, died in Monday night’s blaze, the third since April to gut buildings housing foreigners in the French capital.

Just days ago, a deadly blaze killed 17 Africans in Paris. Four months earlier, 24 people died in a fire at a budget hotel where African immigrants lived, focusing new attention on the plight of Paris’ poor.

Two other people were seriously injured in the latest fire, which ripped through a six-story building in central Paris.

French President Jacques Chirac urged investigators to work diligently to determine the cause and said the government would take “strong initiatives” soon to help families in inadequate housing.

“I want to stress how much this situation is unworthy of the natural requirements that we owe to people here in France, whatever their origin or nationality,” he said Tuesday.

Conditions 'absolutely inadmissible'
A dozen families from the Ivory Coast lived in the building, where the conditions were known by authorities to be “absolutely inadmissible and dangerous,” said Pierre Aidenbaum, the district mayor.

Aidenbaum said the city intervened to have the rundown building — abandoned by its owner — bought six months ago. He added that he had begun searching for a place to relocate the families a month ago.

Deputy Paris Mayor Yves Contassot said about 25 families lived in the building, which was taken over by squatters. About half the families were illegal immigrants, he said.

A woman who lived in a nearby building, Elisabeth Sevre, said the tenants were living in “frightening conditions” and that she often saw them taking water from a spigot on the street.

About 130 firefighters battled the blaze, which was believed to have started on the second floor. Eleven people, including five firefighters, were slightly injured. Two men were injured jumping out of windows to escape the fire, officials said.

Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said his team had counted 1,000 unfit buildings in Paris when he became mayor in 2001.

“This situation has been around for decades,” he said. “What we want is to attack this problem. We have been doing it for four and a half years.”

Earlier fire claimed 17
On Friday, 14 children and three adults were killed in a blaze in southeastern Paris at a dilapidated apartment building that housed African immigrants. The fire drew angry calls for action on behalf of the needy.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pointed to overcrowding as a reason for the high death toll of that blaze and ordered an inventory of dangerous and cramped buildings.

Officials have ruled out an electrical short circuit in that fire, and French police raised the possibility Monday that the fire was caused by human actions, whether by accident or on purpose.