Germans baffled by Lubeck blaze

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Flowers appeared yesterday around the blackened hulk of Lubeck's immigrant hostel where 10 people, eight of them from a single family, perished in Thursday morning's inferno. Mourners and the city's residents, their consciences troubled by the suspicious circumstances of the blaze, streamed to 3 Ravenstrasse all day.

''We cannot understand it,'' read a sign attached to the fence behind the building. After two days of sifting through the rubble, the police could not understand it either. The three young men from eastern Germany, detained for questioning in the vicinity of the blaze as the flames leapt towards the attic, were released yesterday for lack of evidence, along with a fourth arrested on Thursday evening.

Forensic scientists have established only that the fire broke out on the first floor. Evidence that the flames spread from different directions would indicate arson, but so far no such clues have emerged.

Unlike in previous attacks on foreigners, no racist material or graffiti were left at the scene. ''We are not talking of arson at the moment,'' said Winfried Tabarelli, the head of the local criminal police.

To those who lost close relatives in the fire, the absence of malice offers little consolation. Jean-Marie Magodila, a Zairean immigrant, returned home from a visit to another town on Thursday morning only to discover that his wife, four children and three other members of his family had been killed in the blaze.

Others are still looking for their loved ones. Four people are missing, while another five are in critical condition in hospital. At least 80 people were staying at the four-storey building, 35 more than registered.

If arson is ruled out, the focus is likely to shift to the cramped conditions in refugee hostels. Asylum-seekers are often herded together in houses Germans would not tolerate, their numbers swollen by unregistered friends and relatives trying to eke out an existence away from the watchful authorities. Rickety stoves wedged between mattresses are a constant hazard.