Oct 1st, 2021, 09:58 PM

Fire Near Citadines Creates Confusion for AUP Students

By Claire Moberg
Image credit: Claire Moberg
Smoke overwhelmed the Montmartre neighborhood and the nights of several AUP students last Friday.

Students at the American University of Paris had their weekend disrupted by a major apartment fire in the building attached to their Citadines residence, however, confusion arose when hotel staff discouraged residents from evacuating. The apartment went ablaze at around 7:30 PM on September 17th due to reasons unknown. Firefighters spent over an hour fighting the flames before successfully putting out the fire. The smell of smoke and shouts from pedestrians and onlookers outside were the only reason students began to evacuate. Despite the size and proximity of the fire, no fire alarms in the building were sounded. 

AUP student Maddie Brinkmann did not evacuate until almost an hour after the fire started. 

"I left my apartment when I started smelling smoke really heavily in my room from the window," said Brinkmann. "At that point, it smelled so smoky I thought I'd leave since I didn't know where the fire was." 

Firefighters arrived about 15 minutes after the initial herd of residents evacuated. Some students who evacuated attempted to pull several fire alarms in multiple stairwells to alert others in the building when the fire started. However, none of the alarms went off. Other students and residents evacuated intermittently throughout the night, but not as a result of an alarm system or communication from hotel staff. Only one person was working the reception desk when the fire occurred. The employee was not available for an interview.

The flames from the fire were contained to the apartment itself, but the smoke from the fire engulfed the street in a thick haze. Dozens of patrons from restaurants that lined the small cul-de-sac abandoned their meals to take videos and watch the scene unfold. It is unclear whether the apartment was occupied when the fire started.

Image credit: Claire Moberg


Three fire trucks were present on the scene, with approximately 15 firefighters working to put out the fire. Firetrucks and select firefighters remained outside the building overnight to monitor the situation. 

Despite the evacuation of almost all AUP students present at the time from the hotel premises, Citadines Montmartre told AUP administration that an emergency evacuation was never necessary on Friday night. Marc Montheard, Vice President of Security Operation for AUP, restated the information given from the hotel proprietors in an email sent to residents and their parents the following day. 

"The hotel confirmed to us that, following fire regulations for hotels in Paris, there is a brief delay when an alarm is activated which allows hotel staff to quickly assess the situation before the signal is transmitted to the fire department," the email stated. 

The ANEC, a European trade, and consumer protection association, outlined concern for a previous hotel fire in Paris during a hotel fire safety conference in 2010. The Paris Opera Hotel's 2005 fire resulted in the death of 25 people, however, the hotel met all of Paris' hotel safety regulations at the time. ANEC claimed that raising a hotel fire safety standard across the European Union was necessary to ensuring adequate regulations.

While several firefighters attempted to stop the fire, other firefighters surveyed the Citadines property for any signs of danger or damage. Even before the building was cleared by the emergency responders, the hotel did not believe evacuation from the property was necessary. Students were not updated about the residency's safety status from staff, but from an email sent from the AUP housing staff. 

"If I didn't ask the front desk directly, I'm not sure I would've gotten any information from them," Brinkmann said. 

AUP sent the head of security, Phil Von Eiff, to the Citadines property at approximately 9 PM to check in with students in person. Although the fire had been extinguished by firemen at that time, Von Eiff was unable to move past police tape secluding the area from the public. Montheard responded to the concerns of distressed students and was present in the Citadines lobby the following evening to answer questions about the incident. The AUP student ID card includes emergency contact information for university and French services. Students are encouraged to take advantage of AUP's emergency resources.

Image credit: Claire Moberg


"After seeing photos from some other AUP students... I was shocked," Brinkmann said. "The next morning on the street I could see all of the burned rubble and it was really intense to look at."  

Representatives from Citadines Montmartre declined to comment any further on the events and claimed the property was never in danger. Regardless, many AUP students felt unsafe in the hours after the fire. About six students remained in the lobby until late in the night, afraid to be alone in their apartments. The fire and following damage affected residents despite their relative safety.