Video still: Theo Marques
New York (January 28, 2013)—Soundproofing is being cited as one of the accelerants behind a massive nightclub fire Saturday night in Santa Maria, Brazil. The blaze left 233 dead, mostly due to toxic smoke inhalation suffered when they were unable to escape the venue in time.
More than 1,000 people, mostly university students, were in the club, Kiss, when the fire broke out at 2:15 AM during a performance by the band Gurizada Fandangueira. The group had played four or five songs, band member Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha, when soundproofing on the ceiling above the stage caught fire due to a firework lit by a bandmember or possibly from “the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks.” At another point, he noted, "It could have been a short circuit; there were many cables there.”
He added, "When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working." While the band escaped to safety, one member died when he ran back to rescue his accordion.
Exits around the venue were locked, according to reports. The ensuing rush to the sole open exit led bouncers to initially prevent the crowd from fleeing, thinking that patrons were trying to leave without paying their bar tabs. As the fire spread rapidly, they relented and tried to get the crowd out, although trampling soon set in.
Colonel Guido Pedroso de Melo, commander of the fire brigade in Rio Grande do Sul, told Reuters News Service, “We ran into a barrier of the dead at the exit. We had to clear a path to get to the rest of those that were inside." Also, in the dark smoke, some ran into the bathrooms, mistaking them for exits, and soon became trapped.
Officials stated the club was likely overcrowded at the time of the fire; some initial reports placed the number of patrons as close to 2,000. The facility was not allowed to host more than 1,000 people, reportedly. The club itself was between permits—while it was allowed to be open, its permit had not yet been renewed. The club’s owners have agreed to work with authorities for their investigation and one owner was taken in by police for questioning.
The event eerily recalled the 2003 fire at the Station Night Club in Warwick, Rhode Island, which killed 97 people and injured 170 others when pyrotechnics used during a Great White concert lit the soundproofing on the venue’s low ceiling.