“It’s really tragic, it’s a shock, my legs are shaking,” he added. “We all know each other.”
Vaulx-en-Velin, northeast of Lyon, France’s third-biggest city, is a working-class suburb and one of the poorest towns in the region, with a poverty rate of 33 percent, according to official statistics.
The authorities had already taken steps to renovate both the building where the fire took place and the surrounding area, Le Mas du Taureau, and there were plans for more improvements. Le Mas du Taureau was the site of major urban riots in the 1990s.
The Lyon Metropolis, a local governing body that includes Vaulx-en-Velin, said in a statement that the building where the fire occurred was one of 13 “deteriorated” apartment complexes in the neighborhood.
The local authorities had approved a plan in January to “rehabilitate and assist in the management of each of the condominiums,” the statement said, but it did not draw a connection to the state of the building and the fire on Friday morning.
On a visit to Vaulx-en-Velin in July, Élisabeth Borne, the French prime minister, promised that the government would do more to renovate low-income neighborhoods, many of which are run-down clusters of apartment blocks on the outskirts of major cities, marred by neglect and unemployment, and often home to large immigrant communities.
Olivier Klein, the French minister for housing, said on Friday that emergency renovations had been carried out in 2019, but he did not specify what had been done, and he said that it was too early to say whether the state of the building had played a role in the fire.
“This is a neighborhood where urban redevelopment is ongoing,” Mr. Klein told reporters in Vaulx-en-Velin.