CHARLY-SUR-MARNE: A mother and her seven children aged two to 14 died on Monday after a faulty dryer set their house ablaze in eastern France, authorities said. The raging fire, the deadliest such blaze involving children in France in a decade, broke out shortly after midnight in the family home in the town of Charly-sur-Marne, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Paris in the Champagne region.
The mother and her children suffocated from black smoke that filled their home as they were trapped in the attic, local prosecutor Julien Morino-Ros told AFP. The origin of the fire appeared to have been a malfunctioning clothes dryer on the ground floor of the house, he said.
Neighbours called the fire department to report the blaze just before 1:00 am (0000 GMT). The woman’s husband, father to three of the children, was seriously burned and transferred to a hospital, they said. His life was saved by a firefighter who lives nearby and who intervened before his colleagues arrived.
The children included five girls and two boys. Four of them were from the mother’s previous relationship. The father appears to have attempted to put out the fire and told his wife and the children to seek refuge from the flames in their converted attic on the second floor. But that move turned out to be a trap, the prosecutor said.
‘We saw the horror’
While more and more black smoke rose through the staircase, firefighters were having trouble getting ladders to the top windows of the house which is nestled in a narrow street in the centre of the village of 2,600 inhabitants.
The house’s electric window shutters were blocked because of a power outage triggered by the faulty appliance, further hampering the rescue effort, he said. The eight victims died of smoke poisoning, and their bodies were not charred by fire, the prosecutor said. “I hope with all my heart that they didn’t feel or see anything,” said Sylvie Corre, wife of the house’s owner.
“We were there, on the street, all night and we saw the horror,” she told AFP by telephone. The father of the family, in his 40s, works for the Corre family who own a small champagne making business, she said, calling him an “excellent employee”. His wife, also in her 40s, was a stay-home mother. Corre said the house met all safety norms. “Obviously there will be a technical investigation, and anything is possible,” she said.
The prosecutor said there was no early indication of any safety issues with the house despite it being “a bit old”. A total of 80 firefighters were called to the scene, and the fire was extinguished after several hours, local authorities said. Residents in a neighbouring house, that was damaged by the fire, were evacuated from their home, and firefighters blocked off the street.
The tragedy was the worst such incident in France since 2013, when five children between two and nine died asphyxiated in an accidental fire, also in northern France. In the most recent similar tragedy, 10 people including four children died in the night from December 15 to 16, 2022, in a seven-storey building in a working-class district of Vaulx-en-Velin under renovation near the southeastern French city of Lyon. – AFP