PARIS (AP) — A fast-moving fire swept through a birthday party in the basement of a bar in the northwest French city of Rouen, killing at least 13 people and injuring six others, authorities said Saturday.
The bar fire came as France is on maximum terror alert after two deadly attacks last month and was the second recent tragedy to hit Rouen, a city in Normandy. A priest was slain by two Islamic State extremists in his church outside Rouen on July 26 and his funeral was held Tuesday in Rouen Cathedral.
More than 80 firefighters battled the early Saturday blaze at the downtown bar in the city in Normandy, Rouen Mayor Yvon Robert said after the blaze was extinguished.
The fire was “totally accidental,” Robert told Europe 1 radio, mentioning a possible gas explosion “from the heat in a basement room doubtless too small for the number of people present.”
It was not known how many people were partying at the Cuba Libre club. The area has been blocked off and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a judicial investigation has been opened to discover the cause of the blaze.
He gave an initial count of 13 dead and six injured in the fire, which started after midnight Friday. The prefecture, which runs the region, said one of the six injured was in a life-threatening condition.
Images from outside the bar on French television showed a large ground-floor window broken open, burned red bar chairs and a tattered awning in front.
The mayor said the fire was “very brief.”
The birthday party was “a moment of joy for those involved that … ended tragically,” Robert said.
The local Paris-Normandie newspaper said the fire ignited in the basement of the bar, which was rented for the evening for the birthday celebration. The paper, without citing sources, said the ceiling, which was covered in sound-insulating material, quickly ignited when candles were lit.
The paper quoted the deputy prosecutor at the site as denying initial reports of an explosion. Laurent Labadie was quoted as saying that the noise reported by neighbors was the sound of windows exploding from the heat.
In addition to the slaying of the French priest, another IS extremist launched a Bastille Day attack on the famed promenade in Nice, killing 85 holiday revelers with a truck before being shot dead by police.