Nine Dead, Two Missing In France Holiday Home Fire Tragedy

Written by on August 9, 2023

Nine bodies were found and two people were missing Wednesday after a fire in France tore through holiday lodging for a group of adults with learning disabilities, an incident the president called a “tragedy”.

The fire at the timbered residence in the eastern town of Wintzenheim struck deep in the night with those on the upper floor unable to react fast enough to save their lives.

The secretary general of the Haut-Rhin prefecture in eastern France, Christophe Marot, said there was “little doubt” the missing had been in the burning building and had not been able to escape.

The fire, which came at the height of the nation’s summer holiday season, is the deadliest in France since a blaze at a bar in the northern city of Rouen in 2016 killed 14 people.

“We have located nine bodies and we are still looking for two,” Philippe Hauwiller, who is leading the fire brigade search operation, told AFP.

With the complex search efforts ongoing, he added: “The difficulty lies in accessing the affected levels, since there is a lot of rubble, a lot of collapsed parts and the stability of the floor is very uncertain.”

The local fire service told AFP authorities were alerted about the blaze in Wintzenheim, just outside the city of Colmar in the eastern Alsace region, at around 6:30 am (0430 GMT).

“The fire was quickly brought under control despite the intensity of the flames,” the prefecture the Haut-Rhin region said in a statement.

It said seventeen people were safely evacuated, with one person hospitalised and another treated for shock.

Those staying at the centre were part of a group of adults with learning difficulties, some of whom who had come to the picturesque and hilly region from the nearby city of Nancy for the holidays.

“In Wintzenheim, the flames ravaged a lodging which accommodated people with disabilities and their companions. In the face of this tragedy, my thoughts go out to the victims, to the injured and to their loved ones,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.

Marot confirmed a total of 28 people had been inside at the time, with 11 initially reported as unaccounted for.

“Unfortunately, there is little doubt: all these people were present in the lodging and could not get out,” he told reporters.

People on the ground floor were able to quickly leave the premises but not those upstairs, he said.

The missing and confirmed dead included 10 people with light learning difficulties and one supervisor, he said.

Marot said there was no indication over the cause of the blaze and added an investigation would be opened by regional prosecutors.

Deputy mayor Daniel Leroy said the residents when the fire broke out were “taken by surprise in deep sleep, everyone was asleep”.

The guesthouse “has been running for several years without problems,” he added.

The traditional semi-timbered building, built in the style of the Alsace region, was severely damaged by the fire, according to the firefighters.

At mid-morning, the firefighters were dousing the scene of the disaster with the help of fire hoses, an AFP photographer said.

The roof was consumed by the flames and, on the first floor, the charred wooden framework was visible.

Other firefighters were clearing wreckage away from the scene of the disaster with smoke still rising up.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on X she would head to the scene after the “terrible” fire.

“My first thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones. I hail the mobilisation of the firefighters,” she added.

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