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Twelve killed in French train fire

A firefighter works on one of the two cars damaged in the fire
A firefighter works on one of the two cars damaged in the fire

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NANCY, France -- Twelve people have been killed and at least nine people injured after an overnight train heading from Paris to Vienna caught fire and filled a sleeping car with smoke, fire department officials said.

The fire broke out at about 2:15 a.m. (0315 GMT) on Wednesday when the train was leaving the city of Nancy, about 322 kilometers (200 miles) east of Paris.

It was first noticed by station staff who saw smoke inside one of the cars as the train passed through. All of the dead -- six men, five women and one child -- are thought to have been killed by smoke inhalation.

"Rescuers got to the scene at 2:22 a.m.. They discovered the first sleeping car charred," Regional official Jean-Francois Cordet told The Associated Press. "Inside were 12 dead, nine injured."

Five Americans were among those dead, according to the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Four of the dead are German citizens, according to Germany's Foreign Ministry. The nationalities of the other three were not immediately known.

Of the injured, four were Germans, two were English, two were French and one was a U.S. citizen, according to police.

Damage on the train was limited to two cars that caught fire, said Lt. Olivier Dumoulin of the Nancy Fire Department.

The cause of the blaze is believed to be accidental, police said. Authorities were initially attributing the cause to an electrical problem, possibly in the heating system, AP reported.

There were about 150 passengers on board the train at the time of the fire, Dumoulin said.

The two cars that caught fire were owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German railroad, and the rest of the train was French-owned.

Fatal accidents are extremely rare on the French rail system, which has a safety record that is the envy of many other nations.

Chief firefighter Jean-Louis Modere told AP most victims died of smoke inhalation.

"The catastrophe was amplified by the fact that it was in a confined space. The fire was limited, and the amount of smoke very quickly became catastrophic," he said.

The injured were taken to a university hospital in Nancy.

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