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Eight dead in Paris apartment block fire

02 September 2015, 14:05

Paris - A fire in an apartment building in northern Paris early Wednesday that killed eight people, including two children, might have been started intentionally, officials said.

The blaze in the 18th district of the French capital, at the foot of the Montmartre hill and its tourist attractions, took more than 100 firefighters to contain it.

Criminal investigators have taken over the probe after it emerged the fire -- the deadliest in Paris since 2005 -- broke out in two separate places in the building.

Tissem Ferjani, a pastry chef who lives on the same road, said she had seen "lifeless bodies on the ground" after residents had jumped in a desperate effort to escape the raging flames.

"I was woken up around 4:00 am by people screaming for help. They had no choice -- either they stayed where they were and died or they got out through the window and they fell.

"Everyone in the district came out to try to help them."

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told Europe 1 radio that authorities were "focusing on the possibility of criminal intent".

"Nothing has been proven yet so we have to be cautious, but for the moment that is the line of investigation that is being looked at very closely," he said.

Firefighters were first called to the scene at 2:20 am (0020 GMT) and quickly put out the blaze, but they were called back again two hours later to extinguish a second, much larger fire.

The blaze started on the ground floor of the five-storey building before spreading into the stairwell.

The eight victims included two who died after they attempted to escape through windows, according to police. A source close to the investigation said two children were among the victims.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said the apartment block was a privately-owned building, not a block of flats for low-income families.

It had been recently renovated and was equipped with an entry code system.

The mayor said 15 buildings in the district had been affected by the inferno.

In a statement, President Francois Hollande said: "Everything is being done to shed light on the cause of this tragedy."

The fire was the worst of its kind in Paris since 2005, when a series of blazes in the capital killed more than 50 people, including 24 in a hostel that mainly housed African families.

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