L”HAY-LES-ROSES, France, AP -Three teenage girls confessed to starting a fire in a suburban Paris housing project over the weekend that killed 16 people, police said Monday.
The fire in a 19-story building south of Paris was the third fatal blaze in the Paris area in nine days. The death toll rose by one after a man died late Sunday in a hospital, where seven others were being treated for serious injuries, police said.
Three teenagers taken in for questioning Sunday confessed to starting the fire, police said. Two of the suspects were 18, the other was 16, police said. Further details were not immediately available.
Witnesses claimed to have seen a group of youths who lived in the building start the fire, said Patrick Seve, mayor of the town of L”Hay-les-Roses, near the Orly airport, where the building was located.
The fire is believed to have broken out in the building”s lobby before raging up a stairwell at least three floors. Some residents jumped from windows as the blaze flared through the building”s entrance.
Authorities were investigating possible arson in an Aug. 26 fire that killed 14 African children and three adults in a run-down Paris apartment building. Three days later, another fire killed seven in a building used by squatters.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy suggested on French television Sunday night that copycats were at work.
"Each time there is a news story, sometimes that gives ideas to people who then turn into criminals," Sarkozy said, promising severe punishment for anyone found guilty of arson.
In response to the fires, the government has announced plans to quickly build more low-income apartments, requisitioning some land to do so. Sarkozy ordered buildings considered dangerous evacuated — a process that began last week.