Candles knocked over in lovers' row could have started Paris fire

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The Independent Online

A lovers' quarrel involving romantic candles may have caused the fire that killed 24 people in a Paris hotel last week.

A lovers' quarrel involving romantic candles may have caused the fire that killed 24 people in a Paris hotel last week.

A 31-year-old woman, identified only as Fatima, was taken into custody on Monday, three days after the Hotel Paris-Opera burnt down. She was identified by judicial officials as the girlfriend of one of the hotel's night watchmen. She told criminal investigators that she "could be" at the origin of the fire that started shortly after 2am on Friday in the second-floor breakfast room of the budget hotel, which housed mainly African immigrants.

The Paris prosecutor's office announced that it was opening an investigation for "fire caused involuntarily, manslaughter and involuntary injuries" following Fatima's account. She told police that she went to the hotel to see her boyfriend, the night watchman, and put a dozen lit candles on the floor of the breakfast room, a statement from the prosecutor's office said.

"After a violent dispute that she blamed on the inebriation of her companion, she finally left the hotel, throwing several piles of clothes on the floor in a fit of rage, without paying attention to the candles," the statement said.

Twenty-seven people remain in hospital, 14 in serious condition. Some 50 people were injured in all. The overcrowded hotel, in Paris' 9th district, housed mostly people in need placed there by social services. The nationalities of the dead have not been given.

The manager of the hotel, not identified by name, was questioned on Sunday, two days after the fire.

Hours after the fire, which devastated the hotel, firefighters speculated that it had started accidentally in a breakfast room.

The Interior Minister, Dominique de Villepin, says new measures to reinforce fire regulations will be introduced as soon as possible. Fire specialists have been asked for proposals and new procedures should be in place within weeks.

The hotel's fire-prevention system had been checked on 24 March. Four recommendations to improve safety were issued but the problems were not enough to close the hotel, police said.

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