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2 Firefighters Dead in Paris Gas Leak Explosion as Police Prepare for Protests

As Paris prepares for a resurgence in the Yellow Vest protests, an explosive bakery gas leak kills 2 firefighters with dozens wounded

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    2 Firefighters Dead in Paris Gas Leak Explosion as Police Prepare for Protests
    Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
    Firefighters intervene after the explosion of a bakery on the corner of the streets Saint-Cecile and Rue de Trevise in central Paris on January 12, 2019.

    French interior minister says 2 firefighters were killed and at least 30 injured in a blast at a bakery in Paris that was reportedly caused by a gas leak. 

    Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said "at this stage we can say it seems from an accidental origin, this would be a gas leak." He said that Paris firefighters were already at the scene for a suspected gas leak on Saturday morning when the explosion happened. Investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the blast.

    Firefighters pulled injured victims out of windows and evacuated residents as smoke billowed out over Rue de Trevise in the 9th arrondissement of north-central Paris.

    Witnesses described the overwhelmingly sound of the blast and people trapped inside nearby buildings. Charred debris and broken glass covered the pavement around the apartment building housing the bakery, which resembled a blackened carcass.

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    A witness says he saw Paris firefighters enter a bakery in the morning but he and his co-workers "thought maybe it's a joke, a false alarm" and they went back to work.

    Pedro Goncalves, an employee at the Hotel Mercure opposite the bakery, said that about an hour later a blast rocked the surrounding streets.

    "In the middle of nothing, I heard one big explosion and then a lot of pressure came at me (and) a lot of black smoke and glass," he said. "And I had just enough time to get down and cover myself and protect my head."

    A Paris police spokeswoman several injuries have been reported to police but no deaths. The spokeswoman, who wasn't authorized to be publicly named, said the explosion is believed to have been prompted by a gas leak. She provided no further details.

    Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said "the situation is under control" but warned the explosion had caused a "heavy toll." Speaking Saturday from the scene, he estimated 200 firefighters were involved in the operation.

    An investigation was opened, according to the Paris prosecutor's office, which would not comment on what possible causes were being investigated.

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    Silver-helmeted firefighters and red firetrucks filled the street and inspected adjoining courtyards. A vehicle from gas company GRDF was stationed nearby.

    The bakery is around the corner from the Folies-Bergere theater and not far from the shopping district that includes the famed headquarters of Galeries Lafayette.

    The explosion came as the French capital is on edge and under heavy security for yellow vest protests expected later Saturday around the country.

    Police brought in armored vehicles to gird for possible violence between police and yellow vest protesters Saturday, as the movement seeks new arenas and new momentum for its weekly demonstrations.

    The movement waned over the holidays but appears to be resurging, despite President Emmanuel Macron's promises of billions of euros in tax relief and an upcoming "national debate" to address demonstrators' concerns. Protesters want deeper changes to France's economy and politics, seen as favoring the rich.

    Authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide, while Castaner threatened tough retaliation against rioters and their backers, warning of increasing radicalization among the largely peaceful demonstrators.

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    Paris police said in a statement they made several arrests before Saturday's actions, notably in France's historic Gypsy or traveler community, which has called for protests in support of a boxer caught on video punching police last weekend in central Paris.

    That incident dominated French media over the past week and prompted fears of resurgent tensions between protesters and police. Boxer Christophe Dettinger turned himself in to police and is in custody pending trial.

    Other protests are planned in several French cities Saturday, but many actions aren't officially declared in advance and pop up in unexpected places. Last Saturday, authorities estimated 50,000 people protested nationwide, including 3,500 in Paris.

    The protests started with drivers opposing fuel tax increases, which is why participants wear the fluorescent vests French motorists must keep in their vehicles. But it has mushroomed into a broad-based revolt against years of shrinking purchasing power and Macron's pro-business policies.

    Some yellow vest groups hope to translate that into votes in the European elections in May.