Fourteen people died and eight more were hurt when fire swept through a workshop for disabled people in the Black Forest region of Germany on Monday, authorities said.
Around 300 firefighters backed by helicopters battled the blaze in the town of Titisee-Neustadt in southwestern Germany, as some wearing breathing apparatus pulled several people from the stricken building.
Authorities were working to determine the cause of the fire. Police said an explosion had taken place.
It was not clear whether chemicals were stored in the building, but the workshop’s activities included the treatment of wood.
Pictures showed dense smoke billowing out of the three-storey concrete building and firefighters helping the injured, some in wheelchairs, to helicopters and ambulances.
“We can tell you that we have 14 dead. The process of identification is ongoing,” said Karl-Heinz Schmid, a spokesman for police in the nearby city of Freiburg.
“We also have a large number of injured who have been taken to hospital.”
Authorities said eight people had been seriously injured, revising up an earlier toll by two. Most had suffered injuries due to smoke inhalation, according to police.
However, all were expected to survive, police spokesman Alfred Oschwald said.
Another police spokesman, Marco Troll, said: “The building is empty. There are no further dead.”
Alexander Widmaier, head of the local fire department, said the alarm was raised at 1.58pm and his firefighters were on the scene within six minutes.
He said there was a “massive” amount of smoke that filled the building “extremely quickly”.
A source close to Caritas, the welfare association that runs the workshop, said there were 50 or 60 people aged between 20 and 65 in the building when the blaze broke out.
In total, the workshop employed some 120 people with disabilities.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the majority were mentally disabled workers who were manufacturing wooden decorations for Christmas as well as other electrical and metal goods.
The building was relatively modern and fully in line with fire regulations, this source stressed. The building was still intact after the blaze was extinguished.
Caritas president Peter Neher said: “We know the colleagues at the scene will do everything to find out the cause for this terrible event.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted that she was “appalled” by the fire and was receiving updates from Winfried Kretschmann, the state premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the fire took place.
Kretschmann himself said: “My thoughts go out to the victims and my deepest condolences go to their families. The whole of Baden-Wuerttemberg mourns with them.”
Some 25 counsellors were treating relatives of the victims at the scene. The process of identifying the dead was expected to last until the early evening local time. The local Red Cross sent 80 people to lend assistance.
Prosecutors and experts must now investigate the possible causes of the blaze, said a spokesman for the local fire department.
“We are dealing here with people who of course do not react rationally,” local agency DPA quoted fire chief Widmaier as saying.
In 1996, 16 people died in a blaze at Duesseldorf airport.
In February 2008, nine people died, including five children, when a blaze ripped through a block of flats in the western city of Ludwigshafen.
Founded in Germany in 1897, Caritas has a presence in some 200 countries.
The organisation employs some 559,000 people in 24,500 centres across Germany.