A firefighter sprays water after a fire erupted at a home for disabled people in Wintzenheim near Colmar, eastern France, on August 9, 2023.
Paris CNN  — 

Eleven people were killed when a fire tore through a pair of attached vacation homes hosting people with disabilities in an eastern French town early Wednesday morning.

The tragedy rattled French society, which in August usually sees much of the country go on vacation.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Minister of Solidarity and Families Aurore Berge traveled to the scene of the fire in Wintzenheim, a small town near the German border about 315 miles (500 kilometers) east of Paris, just hours after after the blaze had been contained.

“It’s clearly an terrible tragedy,” Borne said.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze kilometers) east of Paris, at 6:33 a.m., according to Philippe Hauwiller, the town’s head of rescue operations. First responders arrived to the scene 14 minutes later, where 17 people had already evacuated.

Eleven people were still inside. Given the intensity of the flames on their arrival, Hauwiller said it was “more than likely” that those who hadn’t made it out were already dead by the time firefighters were on the scene.

The 500 square-meter (5,400 square-foot) facility had been hosting people with disabilities and members of a charitable association with them during the summer holidays, according to the region’s deputy prosecutor, Nathalie Kielwasser.

The building itself was comprised of two rental homes, one on the ground floor and another on the floor above. Everyone staying on the ground floor managed to escape, while just five of the 16 staying on the first floor got out, Kielwasser told reporters.

“We don’t know exactly why they were trapped by the flames,” she said.

At least 16 members of the group had been visiting Nancy, a city about 140 kilometers (87 miles) northwest of Wintzenheim, authorities said.

Authorities deployed 76 firefighters, four fire trucks and four ambulances to the blaze.
One official said that those inside the building could not escape from the blaze.

Nathalie Klotz, a Wintzenheim resident, woke up at 7 a.m. to the sound of sirens blaring and people screaming. She told BFMTV that opened her shutters and saw fire trucks, ambulances and big plumes of smoke in the distance. Klotz moved to the garden to get a better look at what was happening. From there she saw the building alight, with flames several meters high burning from the roof.

Morgane Buch, who lives next door to the building that went up in flames, awoke early Wednesday to check on her baby. When she looked out of her child’s window, she noticed someone standing near her car.

The woman told Buch, “ma’am, leave, it’s burning!”

Authorities deployed 76 firefighters, four fire trucks and four ambulances, and the blaze was brought under control by 9 a.m., the prefecture said in a statement.

Wintzenheim Deputy Mayor Daniel Leroy said all the visitors were adults, believed to be between 27 and 50 years old. The building where they were staying “completely destroyed,” by the fire, and only the ground floor remained, he said.

Authorities do not know what caused the blaze. Kielwasser, the deputy prosecutor, said officials will investigate if the building met all the safety standards to host such a large group of people.

President Emmanuel Macron offered condolences to those affected and thanked first responders in a statement.

“Faced with this tragedy, my thoughts go out to the victims, to the injured, to their loved ones. Thank you to our security forces and our mobilized emergency services.

CNN’s Maya Szaniecki contributed to this report