Ten people including five children aged three to 15 were killed in a fire on Friday that engulfed a residential building in an impoverished town near the southeastern French city of Lyon.
Another four people were seriously injured in the blaze in Vaulx-en-Velin, which started around 03:00. (0200 GMT) on the ground floor before spreading up the seven-storey building, rescue authorities told local media.
The flames were later extinguished.
Footage on social media showed a huge, dark cloud billowing above the building earlier in the day. “I was woken up by the screams,” a neighbour, Mohamed, told Le Progres de Lyon daily.
“We wanted to help people but the smoke was too thick.”
Other witnesses quoted by local media said a woman had tossed her child down to a crowd, which had gathered outside and managed to catch him. She then jumped out of the window to escape the fire and smoke and fell to her death.
The Lyon prosecutor’s office opened an investigation to determine how the fire broke out, and said it could not rule out any hypothesis including arson.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who visited the site of the fire on Friday, said there was drug dealing – and squatting by drug dealers – in several spots along that street, including within the building hit by the fire. Police had arrested drug dealers in that building overnight, he said.
“There had been reports of drug dealing but it’s too early to draw conclusions,” Darmanin said.
Angry neighbours told media including Le Progres de Lyon and BFM TV that they felt abandoned by public authorities, amid reports that the building hit by the fire had been in poor condition.
A third of Vaulx-en-Velin’s population lives under the poverty threshold, in what is one of France’s many high-rise areas hastily developed in the second half of the 20th century to fight a housing shortage and absorb waves of immigrants.