Monday, January 28, 2013

Death By Fire

It happened here:

A small town in Rio Grande do Sul, a state in Southern Brazil that share borders with Argentina and Uruguay.

On Saturday night, the 26th of January Some two thousand teenagers, mostly between the ages of sixteen and twenty. were packed into a popular nightclub call Kiss, a venue designed to hold no more than one thousand.

One of the members of the band on the stage ignited a flare as part of the show.
The flare caused the ceiling of the club to catch fire.
And, within moments, the place filled with smoke.

Bodies are still being counted, but the lowest estimate of fatalities now stands at 231, placing the disaster as the second largest of its type in Brazilian history. (The first being a circus fire, Rio de Janeiro, in 1961, which claimed 501 lives.)

This being an age of smart phones the coverage of the event was unprecedented.
And the photos are heartbreaking.

Dilma Roussef, the nation’s president, in Chile on a visit of state, promptly cancelled her plans and returned home. She was unable to hold back tears in the interview she gave to the press.

The fire inspection certificate for the location was long expired.

One of the double exit doors was locked shut.

And there is a custom, in the country, for people to run a tab which they pay upon leaving.
So many of the people who were trying to escape, and hadn’t settled their accounts before they did, were simply held back until it was too late.

 The cause of death, in the majority of cases, was smoke inhalation.

It’s easy to blame the authorities in Brazil – and they will be blamed - of that you can be sure.

But the sad truth of the matter is that this is the kind of thing that can occur anywhere – and has.
Several of the worst fires around the world in recent decades have been at nightclubs.
A fire killed 492 people at Boston's Coconut Grove club in 1942, the deadliest nightclub blaze in U.S. history.

-In 1977, 165 people perished and more than 200 were injured when the Beverly Hills Supper Club in
Southgate, Kentucky, which touted itself as the Showplace of the Nation, burned to the ground.

A fire at the Ozone Disco Pub in 1996 in Quezon City, Philippines, killed 162 people, many of them 
students celebrating the end of the school year.

A welding accident reportedly set off a Dec. 25, 2000, fire at a club in Luoyang, China, killing 309.

A nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003 killed 100 people after pyrotechnics used as a stage prop by the rock band Great White set ablaze cheap soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling. The same thing that happened on Saturday night at Kiss.

At least 194 people died at an overcrowded working-class nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2004.

And a blaze at the Lame Horse Nightclub in Perm, Russia, broke out on Dec. 5, 2009, when another indoor fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches, killing 152.

My heart goes out, tonight, to the hundreds of parents in that one little Brazilian town who are mourning the deaths of their sons and daughters. There is no experience in life that is worse than losing a child.

I ask all of you who are reading this to remember those grief-stricken parents in your thoughts.

Leighton - Monday


  1. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the terrible tragedy of that fire and the unnecessary loss of young lives.

    Why was the exit door locked? Why weren't people allowed to escape?

    The parents will be haunted forever by this tragedy.

    This reminds me of the fire in the Bangladesh garment factory a few months ago in which 112 workers died. Exits were locked. There were no stairs leading outside. Windows were barred. Many could not get out.

    And then it reminds me of the 1911 Triangle Factory fire in New York City. My immigrant grandmother worked there, but was out sick on the day of the fire. She lost many young friends. In all, 146 workers died, mostly immigrant women and girls.

    Exit doors were blocked and locked. Fire escapes didn't have ladders reaching to the ground. Fire truck ladders couldn't reach high enough to help those on the fire escapes.

    The fire led to the first workplace fire safety laws.

    I hope that fire safety regulations are put into place in nightclubs and are enforced.

  2. Heartbreaking. Those locked doors also reminded me of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, where the doors were chained and locked to prevent theft and wound up robbing young people of their futures and parents of their children. There are also thoughts of profit behind the choice of construction materials that makes those nightclubs tinder boxes. My friends and I danced almost compulsively as teenagers, and no body had to set the building on fire to make it fun. What is it with those indoor fireworks? How did they become an essential part of dancing?

  3. A terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with the relatives. After all the terrible tragedies that have occurred how can organisations ignore basic fire safety regulations? We have PBS America now on our cable and The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire has featured in two documentary series.
    It is so sad that this still goes on.

  4. The Coconut Grove fire in 1944 resulted in a number of changes in fire laws in Massachusetts. Some have been adopted by other states. Exit doors must open out and revolving doors now fold like an accordion so that the entire door frame is opened. Revolving doors must be paired with a door that opens out and has a "panic" bar so that it will remain open as people push through. Fire exits must be clearly marked by a red light that can be seen through heavy smoke and whose power source must be independent from the main electoral system.

    The Coconut Grove fire led to significant development in burn treatment. Massachusetts General Hospital had recently opened a blood bank and victims of the fire were some of the first to be treated with blood transfusion. Merck Pharmaceuticals was in the process of developing an antibiotic grown from mold. Most skin grafts failed because of the development of staphylococcus bacteria. Penicillin worked so well that the government expedited its creation and sent it to the armed forces.

    The Coconut Grove fire started because a soldier wanted a little privacy with his girlfriend. The soldier unscrewed a light bulb. When a bus boy replaced it, he lit a match so he could see. The match ignited the flammable, paper decorations. As with the Brazil fire, the Station fire was started when band member lit a match to begin a pyrotechnics display. The proximate cause of the fires was poor judgement. The real cause in all three was greed, death by cover charge and bar tabs.


  5. Amen.

    And, as much as I love rock and roll, I hope to never again read the words, "indoor pyrotechnics."

  6. I have so many thoughts about this, but for now all I can think to say is may God have mercy on the souls of the victims and their loved ones...and none for the callous, corrupt, and indifferent who once again brought tragedy upon our children.

  7. This is so wrenching-and I second what Jeff said. Blessings on those who were lost. Maybe there'll be changes, probably not.