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Germany

Deadly Berlin Fire Suspected Arson Attack

A fire Monday night in a Berlin apartment block killed at least eight people, four of them children, in what authorities are calling the city's worse blaze since World War II. Police believe it was set on purpose.

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Initial police investigations suggest the fire may have been arson

Reports suggest that the people died in a fire suspected to have been caused by arson in an apartment building in Berlin, authorities in the German capital said Tuesday.

While some accounts differ on the exact number of fatalities, the death toll is likely to one of the highest in a fire in Berlin since World War II.

Eight other people suffered smoke inhalation, six of them seriously, the head of Berlin's fire services, Albrecht Broemme, said.

A further 43 people in the building were treated at the scene for minor cases of smoke inhalation. The emergency services were unable to immediately provide details on the identities or ages of the victims.

Residents ran into stairwell inferno

The fire began at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Monday in an elevator shaft on the ground floor of the five-storey building in the Ufnaustrasse of the city's Moabit district. The fire then spread through the building floor-by-floor.

Firefighters said the flames spread more quickly as many residents opened their doors to rush into the corridor. "In their panic the victims tried to escape by using the stairwell," said a fire brigade spokesman. "It was an escape into death."

While the initial blaze was relatively small, the fire authorities claim that the fire was fed by the rush of oxygen released from the opening of the apartment doors.

Language problems complicate resucue

The death and injury toll was also likely to have been exacerbated by linguistic problems with many of the residents being Arabic speakers who may not have been able to understand the instructions of the police and the fire brigade, the authorities speculated.

Around 150 firefighters, 25 emergency vehicles and seven doctors were at the scene. The fire was eventually extinguished after the emergency services had battled it for more than six hours. The surviving residents were evacuated to nearby lodgings and the fire damaged building was closed.

Early investigations by the Berlin police department's criminal investigation unit into the cause of the fire uncovered a number of charred baby carriages on the first floor, arousing suspicions of arson. "We believe that (the fire) is of criminal origin," a police spokesman said.

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