11 missing after blaze engulfs disabled children centre

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire which erupted at a home for disabled people in Wintzenheim near Colmar, eastern France, on August 9, 2023. — AFP
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire which erupted at a home for disabled people in Wintzenheim near Colmar, eastern France, on August 9, 2023. — AFP

Authorities said Wednesday at least 11 people went missing when a blaze erupted in a cottage in Wintzenheim town of eastern France with nearly 76 firefighting personnel on the ground working to extinguish the fire.

Emergency services received reports of the fire at 06:30 local time which is reported to be ignited in a property that was being used to help young people with disabilities, in the town close to the German border.

Reports suggest that 17 people were evacuated with one transported to the hospital.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said, while confirming the incident that it was likely there are several casualties from the fire.

According to AFP, the local government said that the fire was under control.

Reuters reported that the missing 11 are part of a group of people from Nancy — also in eastern France.

“Four fire engines were sent to tackle the blaze, who quickly brought it under control despite the strength of the fire,”  local government Haut-Rhin said in a statement.

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and families minister Aurore Bergé left for Wintzenheim to support the victims and their families, according to reports.

The head of the Bas-Rhin prefecture in eastern France said the people missing in the fire were now considered “potentially deceased”, according to AFP.

Christophe Marot said the people who were inside the building when the blaze broke out have not been found.

“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 fire department said the lodging was rented by an association in that helps people with learning difficulties.

“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, AFP reported.

The roof was destroyed 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 Twitter, which is being rebranded as 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.

Marot said those missing were 10 people with light learning difficulties and one supervisor.

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


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