France: Rouen bar explosion kills 13, at least 6 injured

At least 13 people have been killed and others are injured after an explosion and fire ripped through a bar called Le Cuba Libre in the French city of Rouen, officials say. The cause is believed to be accidental, after the fire broke out during a birthday celebration shortly after midnight.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said more than 50 firefighters battled the deadly blaze. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

An official investigation has been opened to determine the cause of the explosion.

The incident happened at about 12:50 a.m. local time on Saturday when Le Cuba Libre, which is a bar located at 44 Avenue Jacques Cartier, had been rented out for a private birthday party. Dozens of people – most of them young people – were inside the building.

Rouen is the capital of the Normandy region, about 112 kilometres (69 miles) northwest of Paris.

A local police official confirmed just after 4 a.m. that at least 13 people had been killed and 6 others have been injured, of whom one is said to be in critical condition. Those killed are believed to be between the ages of 18 and 25, though their identities have not yet been confirmed.

According to preliminary information, the fire erupted when candles for a birthday cake were lit in the basement of the bar, after which a small explosion occurred. The ceiling of the basement became quickly engulfed in flames, trapping those inside. There are no indications of terrorism.

Streets in the area have been closed and a large number of emergency services remain at the site of the disaster, though rescue operations were finished by 3 a.m.

The fire marks the second incident to have rocked Normandy in little over a week. An elderly priest was killed and three others were injured after being held hostage at a Catholic church by knife-wielding attackers on July 26. The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attackers, both 19, were shot dead by French police as they attempted to leave the church.