A birthday party turned tragic in Rouen, France over the weekend when a sudden fire gutted the basement bar hosting the celebration, leaving 13 dead and six injured. Police now suspect a birthday cake, topped with candles and sparklers, fell to the floor and ignited the carpet.
According to Reuters, a group of about 20 people in their late teens and early-to-mid-twenties were celebrating a birthday were in the basement of the popular bar Cuba Libre on Friday night, when, police say, a candle-topped birthday cake fell to the ground and started the fire, quickly filling the room with black smoke. A ceiling made of polystyrene then caught fire, releasing toxic gas. According to CNN, investigators suspect that someone carrying the cake may have tripped while descending the stairs.
"A large number of those who died were killed by the fire, others were overcome by the toxic fumes," a police official told Reuters.
One of the wounded is in critical condition with burns over 90 percent of the body.
A customer who was on the bar's terrace told Reuters that the fire was fast and forceful. "We saw the smoke and we saw the flames, the chairs flew up, the window exploded." It took over 50 firefighters to put the blaze out.
Rouen was already uneasy in the aftermath of the July 26 terrorist killing of a local priest, as well as a wider backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in France. A local deputy prosecutor said that residents who thought they heard a blast of some kind and feared there had been another attack most likely heard the building's gas exploding.
Birthday cakes do occasionally cause fires, but never causing carnage of this degree. Past high-profile cases of birthday cake fires typically involve more than just store-bought candles. In 2011, an explosion sent three to the hospital in Maryland after small fireworks were inadvertently mixed in with birthday candles that were put atop a cake. And last year, a New Jersey man had firefighters called to his house after he added lighter fluid and gasoline to a cake in the hopes of making it burst into flames, only to light his kitchen table on fire; he was hoping to film the stunt for YouTube.
French President François Hollande expressed his condolences in a tweet, saying, "I express my solidarity and compassion to the families of the victims."