Firefighters try to contain the blaze at a vacation home in the town of Wintzenheim, north-eastern France, Wednesday Aug. 9, 2023. Image Credit: AP

A holiday home in eastern France where 11 people were killed in a fire was flouting the fire security standards required for such a property, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

The blaze, described by President Emmanuel Macron as a "tragedy", broke out in the early hours of Wednesday in the small town of Wintzenheim outside Colmar in the Alsace region of eastern France.

It was the deadliest such fire disaster in the country since a blaze in a bar in the northern city of Rouen in 2016 killed 14 people.

"The lodging had not undergone the safety inspection which is obligatory" and "did not have the characteristics needed to host the public", the deputy prosecutor for the city of Colmar, Nathalie Kielwasser, told AFP.

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The guests on the lower floor of the timbered residence all managed to escape alive and it was those on the upper floor who found themselves trapped.

The property was hosting a group of adults with learning disabilities and their companions at the peak of the French summer holiday season in the picturesque area.

The fire brigade said they arrived 15 minutes after the alarm was sounded and could not save more lives as victims rapidly succumbed to the toxic smoke, which often poses more danger in such situations than the actual flames.

Not sufficient

"If you want to drive a car, you need a license. If you want to host people, you have to pass this inspection which then tells you how many people you can host and so forth. We impose a certain number of rules for the sake of safety," Kielwasser said.

The building, an old structure recently renovated, had smoke detectors "but not sufficient for this type of property," she said.

"The smoke detectors were up to standard but they are not the type of smoke detectors that are placed in properties hosting the public," she added.

She said it was not yet clear whether there were fire extinguishers in the building. It also what remains unclear what triggered the fire to break out.

The owner of the property, who lives opposite and alerted the firefighters on Wednesday when the fire broke out, is in shock and has not been detained, she said.

The local mayor's office has said there were 28 people in the property when the fire broke out, with 17 escaping alive. Those killed were 10 adults with learning difficulties and one companion.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who went to the scene on Wednesday, vowed the investigation would shed "all light" on what she described as an "appalling" disaster.

The traditional semi-timbered building, built in the style of the Alsace region, was heavily damaged by the fire.

"In Wintzenheim, the flames ravaged a lodging which accommodated people with disabilities and their companions. In the face of this tragedy, my thoughts go out to the victims, to the injured and to their loved ones," French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.

Late Wednesday, a ceremony was held in a local church, with 11 red candles alight in front of the altar.

Local resident Solange Halter, 61, told AFP "we were woken up by our son very early. When we went outside, we saw a huge plume of smoke".