Rouen fire: At least 13 dead in birthday disaster at bar in French city

Emergency services pull survivors from Cuba Libre where ceiling in basement apparently caught fire when birthday cake with lit candles was brought out

A fire thought to have been caused by the candles on a birthday cake killed 13 people at a bar in the French city of Rouen and left at least six others injured, one critically.

Reports said the fire broke out in the basement of the Cuba Libre where the private party was being held on Friday night. At least six people were rescued and received treatment for injuries. The victims were described as being aged between 18 and 25.

Authorities were describing the fire as an accident, possibly started by candles on the birthday cake setting fire to flammable material in the ceiling. According to French media, one of the party-goers was said to have stumbled while carrying a cake with lit candles down the stairs to the lower floor. Flames spread quickly to polystyrene ceiling tiles which gave off a cloud of noxious fumes that choked victims, who were unable to escape.

“There was no explosion, but candles used for a birthday party set light to the ceiling made of polystyrene, giving off a gas that poisoned the victims,” a police official told the AFP news agency.

More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze at the bar in the city centre, said the French cabinet minister Bernard Cazeneuve, praising their quick action after they arrived at 12.50am local time.

The secretary general of the prefecture of Seine-Maritime, Yvan Cordier, went to the bar and said emergency services had “intervened very quickly”.

Yvon Robert, the mayor of Rouen, also attended, describing the fire as “the greatest catastrophe”.

Lawrence Labadie, local deputy prosecutor, told Paris-Normandie that the fire appeared to be an accident and residents who thought there was a blast had probably heard glass exploding.