NEW ORLEANS — The deadliest city blaze in decades killed eight homeless squatters who were burning debris in an abandoned warehouse to stay warm yesterday, authorities said.
Firefighters said they could not tell the ages or genders of those who died because their bodies were so burned. A man who escaped told the American Red Cross he could not get back in to help his friends because of the smoke, agency volunteer Thomas Butler said.
Temperatures were just below freezing, unusually cold for New Orleans. The warehouse is in a blighted city neighborhood left even more so by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Agencies that work with the homeless said they believe some or all the victims were in their late teens or early 20s. Linda Gonzales, of the New Orleans Mission, said homeless young adults and teenagers often avoid shelters for a variety of reasons.
“Some of them choose to stay out and you can’t make them come in,’’ she said.
Fire Department spokesman Greg Davis said the blaze was reported just before 2 a.m. and fire trucks arrived within five minutes to find the building engulfed in flames.
Some of the victims may have been rendered unconscious by carbon monoxide, a danger with indoor fires.