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5 French Firefighters Die in Blaze

September 15, 2002

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PARIS (AP) _ Five firefighters were killed by two explosions as they tried to extinguish a blaze in residential building outside Paris, the biggest single loss in the Paris fire department’s history.

After evacuating residents, the firefighters used a ladder Saturday to reach the sixth floor of the building in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just north of Paris, when an explosion severely injured two of them, the Paris fire department said.

Moments later, three other firefighters were badly injured in a second explosion as they rushed to rescue their stricken colleagues.

All five were taken in a critical condition to a nearby hospital, where they died of their injuries late Saturday. It was the biggest single loss ever among Paris firefighters.

President Jacques Chirac on Sunday visited the Percy military hospital in nearby Clamart where they died and expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

Chirac paid tribute to the ``extraordinary courage″ of these men ``who died in their youth while saving other lives _ men and woman threatened by flames, and those of their own colleagues,″ his office said in a statement.

``I have lost five of men. It’s like loosing one’s children,″ deputy firefighter chief Col. Michel de Courtis told reporters at the Paris fire department’s headquarters, where flags were flying at half-mast.

He also thanked the Fire Department of New York for sending a message of support. De Courtis said an accidental gas leak caused the explosions.

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