Fourteen disabled people have been killed and several more badly burned in a fire and subsequent explosion that ripped through a charity workshop filled with more than a hundred panic stricken employees in Germany’s rural south western Black Forest region.
Police said that the victims died from burns and smoke inhalation in the blaze that occurred at the workshop in the town of Titisee-Neustadt south east of Freiburg im Breisgau. A further seven victims were injured.
Eyewitness who arrived first on the scene said they saw the workers trapped behind windows shouting for help as smoke and flames swept through the modern glass and concrete building at around 2pm local time.
Dozens of police and fire crews raced to the scene of the blaze. Fire crews fought for two hours to bring the inferno under control. Several workers were pulled from the building by firemen wearing breathing apparatus.
“The place is filled with choking smoke and there are casualties,” a fire brigade spokesman told German television. Television footage showed images of bewildered young people being wrapped in blankets and led away by rescue workers
There were also reports of an explosion inside the building shortly after the fire took hold. Police said they were investigating the cause. They said they could not rule out the possibility that gas canisters had ignited.
The workshop was run by the Catholic charity Caritas. There were around 100 people in the workshop making Christmas toys and other objects when the fire broke out. The workers are both mentally and physically disabled. The workers also pack sweets, make boxes and assemble electrical items.
According to initial reports the blaze started on the roof of the 30-year-old building. A neighbouring haulage firm yard was turned into an emergency rescue centre where dazed and confused survivors were taken.
Germany has some of the most stringent fire regulations in the world. An immediate enquiry into the cause of the blaze was launched by the regional government of Baden-Württemberg. Wilfried Kretschmann, the state's prime minister flew to the scene of the fire last night to console relatives of those killed.
The mayor of Titisee-Neustadt, Armin Hinterseh said he was devastated by the deaths and injuries caused by the fire. “This is overwhelmingly tragic, we must find out how this could happen,” he said.