At least 10 people, including five children, were killed when a fire broke out Friday morning at an eight-story apartment building in a suburb of the French city of Lyon.
Four people are in critical condition, and another ten, including two firefighters, suffered minor injuries from the blaze in the town of Vaulx-en-Velin, the regional authority of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes said in a statement.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the children who were killed ranged from ages 3 to 15. The fire has since been put out.
A local resident named Sarem, who lives 100 meters (328 feet) from the building, told CNN affiliate BFMTV that he had heard children shouting from a fourth-floor balcony at around 2:25 a.m. and that a group of residents used a ladder to evacuate 25 people from the second floor.
The flames “weren’t violent,” he said, but there was a lot of smoke and “the people who were crying for help couldn’t breathe.”
Around 170 firefighters and 65 fire engines were sent to the scene, the regional authority said.
Emergency services were alerted about 3:12 a.m. local time on Friday morning, the authority said, and arrived at the scene 13 minutes later.
The fire broke out on the ground floor of the structure, Major Geoffrey Casu, a spokesman for the National Federation of Firefighters, told French broadcaster LCI on Friday. Because smoke filled internal evacuation routes, evacuations were only possible through the exterior of the building using ladders, which complicated the rescue, Casu said.
The inferno went on to engulf the top three floors of the building, according to BFMTV. It was put out at around 6 a.m.
The cause is still being investigated. Darmanin told journalists that the public prosecutor will open an official probe.
The prefect of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, Pascal Mailhos, the mayor of Vaulx-en-Valin, Hélène Geoffrey, and a public prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet traveled to the scene of the incident, the regional authority said. Darmanin said on Twitter that he and Minister Delegate of Cities and Housing Olivier Klein will visit on Friday as well.