Six people, including children, died when a fire broke out overnight in an apartment building in the northwestern Swiss town of Solothurn, police said Monday, with neighbours indicating the building housed asylum seekers.
“There were more than 20 people in the building. Most were evacuated by the fire brigade, but for six people, including children, the help came too late,” Solothurn police said in a statement.
“They died on the spot.”
A police spokeswoman told AFP that the fire in the building, in the centre of town, had been extinguished, and that a number of those evacuated remained in hospital.
She would not say how many children were among the dead or injured, or provide more information about the identity of those affected.
But neighbours were quoted by several media outlets suggesting that asylum seekers were living in the building. A local cafe owner told AFP he believed they were mainly Eritreans.
An AFP photographer said the building was intact but from the outside all of the apartments looked blackened by smoke and fire.
Police said it remained unclear what sparked the blaze.
“A resident noticed smoke at 2:10 am (0110 GMT) in the stairwell and sounded the alarm,” the police statement said, adding that dozens of firefighters, along with police, ambulances and other rescue services were immediately dispatched to the building.
‘Impossible to escape’
Solothurn city councillor Kurt Fluri told the 20Minutes online news site that he was deeply saddened by the tragedy.
He said the fire actually appeared to have been quite small.
“It was the smoke that was the problem. It was impossible to escape from it,” he said, adding that some people “appear to have jumped out of the window”.
Another witness, a man who had been evacuated from a neighbouring building, also told 20Minutes he had heard that some people had jumped to escape the smoke and flames.
“They panicked,” he said.
Another neighbour, 62-year-old Franco Pedone, told the Blick newspaper’s online edition that he had been jolted awake.
“I suddenly heard women shouting in the night. They were screaming like crazy,” Pedone said.
And yet another neighbour told 20Minutes that he had heard screams of people stuck in the building and had seen a child being resuscitated by emergency workers.
“That was the worst,” he said.
According to the initial findings, the fire originated on one of the lower floors, allowing smoke to spread through the building.
The neighbouring building was also evacuated “as a precaution”, police said, adding that those residents were able to return home before morning.