“I heard a woman screaming in the street, crying and screaming for help,” said witness Jacqueline Ravier, who lives across the street. She saw a young man blackened by smoke and a woman motionless on the ground. She said flames were shooting out for hours from the top of the building and smoke-covered victims were fleeing.
She said shaken residents were brought to her building and the one next door while firefighters continued to fight the flames.
“We feel the smoke,” she said. “What’s surprising is how long it lasted.”
French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to express that “France wakes up with emotion after the fire in Rule Erlanger in Paris last night.”
“Thoughts for the victims. Thanks to the firefighters whose courage saved many lives,” he added.
The fire spread across two floors of the 1970s building shortly after midnight local time, forcing some residents to scramble on to nearby rooftops to escape the flames.
Some 250 firefighters were deployed to the scene, helping rescue some from the roof as well as others who had clambered out of windows to escape the flames.
“When we arrived, we were faced with an apocalyptic situation. Lots of people were calling for help from the windows”, the spokesman told the BBC.
The fire was brought under control after about five hours and the death toll could still increase, authorities said.
City fire service spokesman Clement Cognon told The Associated Press that firefighters went door-to-door to ensure there are no more victims and to prevent residual fires.
“The situation was already dramatic when the firefighters arrived,” Cognon said.
Emergency workers are also seeking to shore up the building that was badly damaged after flames shot out of windows stretching across the upper floors, in images of the operation released by the fire service.
The building is on Rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement, one of the most high-end and calmest districts of Paris. It is close to the popular Bois de Boulogne park less than a mile from the Roland Garros stadium that hosts the French Open tennis tournament and near the Parc de Princes stadium that is home to Paris Saint-Germain, the country’s top soccer team.
Paris police said the street was blocked off and neighboring buildings were also evacuated as the firefighters worked to put out the blaze.
The fire comes a month after a deadly explosion and blaze linked to a gas leak in a Paris bakery.
It is the deadliest fire in Paris since the April 2005 hotel fire near the capital’s famed Opera that killed 24 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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