News reports are coming in that at least 231 people have died in a fire in a Brazilian nightclub, with fears that the death toll could rise further. The blaze, at the Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria, in the south of Brazil, apparently began when a band lit a flare or fireworks which ignited sound proofing foam on the ceiling. Guitarist Rodrigo Martins, whose band Gurizada Fandangueira was playing at the time of the fire told Radio Gaucha: “We had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning. It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, and our singer tried to use it but it wasn’t working”. Reports suggest that as furniture and fittings in the club started to burn, toxic fumes spread, adding to the death toll.
Eyewitnesses also say that fire extinguishers in the venue didn’t work, and that the evacuation of the building was hindered because security guards – not realising what was happening inside – wouldn’t let people leave the club before they had settled their tabs, the venue seemingly operating a special card-payment system. Around 200 people have been injured and television pictures showed fire fighters trying to break down walls with sledgehammers and axes to get people out of the club. Reports say that the venue was 1,000 people over capacity when the blaze started in the University town. and it seems that there was no emergency exit available and people rushed to the only way out of the building in panic, local officials said. Some people died of asphyxiation, others from being trampled, they added, most aged between 18 and 20.
It’s grim reading and what has anyone learned? Back in 2003 the Great White disaster in the USA left 100 dead when the band’s fireworks ignited sound proofing at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island. A tragic venue fire in a club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2004 left 174 dead. The disaster at the Santika Nightclub in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2008 left 61 dead, and the fire at the Lame Horse nightclub in Perm, Russia, killed 112 in 2009, and again caused by fireworks igniting the venue’s plastic ceiling. In Scotland, tragedy was narrowly averted at the Luna nightclub in Edinburgh when indoor fireworks, predictably, ignited plastic netting across the venue’s roof in 2009. And it happens AGAIN?
Police in Brazil have now made four arrests. It is thought that the four men arrested include two co-owners of the venue destroyed in the fire, the venue’s security chief and one member of Gurizada Fandangueira, the band playing when the fire occurred. Police stressed that the arrests so far were for “investigative purposes”. One of the owners of the club is reported to have confirmed that they were in the process of renewing its licence to operate, and that its fire safety certificate had expired last year.