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Arson suspected in deadly Paris apartment fire

Arson suspected in deadly Paris apartment fire
A fire rages through the top floors of an apartment building in Paris on Tuesday. (Paris Fire Brigade)

Paris' deadliest fire in more than a decade killed at least 10 people Tuesday as flames engulfed a nine-story apartment building, sending residents to the roof and clambering across balconies to escape.

A 40-year-old woman who lived in the building was arrested nearby and held on suspicion of having set the early-morning fire. Police opened a criminal investigation for voluntary arson resulting in death.

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Multiple neighbors said they heard the suspect and her neighbor, an off-duty firefighter, arguing over the woman's music before the blaze.

Police responding to the dispute stopped by the woman's apartment. The firefighter and his girlfriend told officers they were leaving to sleep elsewhere in peace and thought the neighbor had lost her mind and one day there would be an accident because of her, according to a police report seen by the Associated Press.

In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, the 22-year-old firefighter said he returned to the building a few minutes later, shortly after midnight, hoping the woman had gone. Instead, he ran into her in the stairwell, which was already beginning to smell of smoke.

"She wished me good luck, telling me that I loved flames," he said in the interview.

Another resident later told him the woman put paper and wood in front of his apartment door, the firefighter told the newspaper, which did not give his name.

Survivors described a chaos of smoke and flames, and the firefighter said he ran upstairs to try to evacuate the building.

One neighbor said she clambered out of her eighth-floor apartment and over balconies to reach safety.

"I climbed across several balconies, with nothing beneath, and then was backed into a corner. There were people climbing hand over hand to get to where I was and escape the flames," said a resident identified only as Claire, her eyes wide with shock soon after her rescue.

Another resident, an off-duty police officer, threw on clothes and rang doorbell after doorbell, trying desperately to alert his neighbors.

"I couldn't save everyone. I can't forgive myself," the man identified as Fabrice told France Info radio, adding that smoke and flames prevented him from climbing higher than the fourth floor.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner spoke to reporters at the scene Tuesday morning as plumes of smoke speckled the sky.

"I want to salute the huge mobilization of the Paris firefighters," he said. "More than 250 people arrived immediately and, throughout the night, saved over 50 people in truly exceptional conditions."

It was the deadliest fire in the city since the April 2005 hotel fire near the capital's famed Paris Opera that killed 24 people.

Castaner said more than 30 people were being treated for relatively light injuries; among the injured were at least eight firefighters.

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Firefighters had plucked some people from the roof and balconies before the fire was extinguished by midmorning.

Authorities suspect the fire resulted from a criminal act, Castaner said. Officials said the suspect had "a history of psychiatric problems."

A police patrol responding to a trash can fire about the same time as the blaze spotted the woman with her hand in another trash can, according to a second police report obtained by the Associated Press. She was staring at the firetrucks streaming toward the building, the document states.

The document says the officers put the woman under brief surveillance and detained her at 12:45 a.m. after she tied a scarf around a car's rear-view mirror and raised a cigarette lighter to it.

The building is on Rue Erlanger in the 16th arrondissement, one of the calmest and priciest districts of Paris. It is less than a mile from the Roland Garros stadium that hosts the French Open tennis tournament and near the Parc des Princes stadium that's home to Paris Saint-Germain, the country's top soccer team.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter: "France wakes up with emotion after the fire in rue Erlanger in Paris last night."

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