Student dies in apartment fire while studying in Paris

Photo: Jasmine Jahanshahi
Jasmine Jahanshahi

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UC Berkeley junior Jasmine Jahanshahi, known for her fearlessness, sense of humor and studiousness, died in an apartment fire last Thursday that took the lives of four others and injured 57. She was 20.

The fire broke out in the stairwell of an apartment building in the Menilmontant neighborhood of Paris early Thursday morning and was extinguished by fire fighters at approximately 5:30 a.m. Jahanshahi died after falling while trying to climb down the side of the building, which has no fire escape.

Friends of Jahanshahi have begun a letter-writing campaign to improve fire safety standards in Paris.

The district in which the building is located is particularly dense and buildings are hard for firefighters to access, according to Frederique Calandra, mayor of the district. Although Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, he added that the building did not show any signs of being decrepit.

Media outlets in France reported Monday that officials suspect that the fire might have been caused by arson, as traces of gasoline were found on the ground floor of the building.

Jahanshahi, a native of West Palm Beach, Fla., had an "obsession" with French culture and was studying at Sciences Po, a highly selective Paris university. Sarah Blanc, a close friend of Jahanshahi since the sixth grade, described her as a "professional student who loved school."

A talented piano student at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts where she attended high school, Jahanshahi was always more interested in academics than anything else.

"She was one of the most studious people I knew," said Joanna Brockhouse, a UC Berkeley junior and former employee of The Daily Californian who lived with Jahanshahi last year. "She had extraordinary follow-through and did everything she set out to accomplish."

Jahanshahi thrived in the UC Berkeley community, and "found a home" on campus, where she studied history and political science. She planned to go to law school and work in international relations, according to Zoe Friedland, a close friend and high school classmate.

"Our thoughts are with (her fellow students abroad) as we share our campus' deep sadness for Jasmine's bright life that was so tragically ended," UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a statement Monday.

Friends also described Jahanshahi as adventurous and as having a "fine-tuned" sense of humor.

"The most vivid memories of her I have are when I would have my ribs hurting from laughing," Friedland said. "She could take any situation and make it hilarious."

Friends recalled many of Jahanshahi's adventures, such as a bike trip around the country during high school, a trip to India and Tibet to teach children English the summer after graduating and a camel trip through Morocco with friends from the study abroad program earlier this year.

Jahanshahi was also known for helping others. Jahanshahi, whose parents, Nazie and Reza, are Iranian, raised funds for an organization that works to remove land mines for former Middle Eastern war zones.

"She would take time to volunteer for things even when she was incredibly busy," Friedland said.

Friends and family said they plan to keep her generous spirit alive by starting a nonprofit organization that will work to provide fire escape ladders and fire safety education to low-income housing residents in Paris.


Contact Damian at [email protected]

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