The Brazil nightclub fire that killed more than 230 people early Sunday morning was reportedly caused by fireworks or possibly a flare that was lit by a member of the band Gurizada Fandangueira as they performed on-stage at Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria. According to Billboard, the band is "known for pyrotechnics."
The band's penchant for being firebugs may have proved fatal for scores and scores of concert-goers this weekend. According to the AP Sunday, "Witnesses said a flare or firework lit by band members started the blaze in Santa Maria, a university city of about 260,000 people. Officials at a news conference said the cause was still under investigation — though police inspector Sandro Meinerz told the Agencia Estado news agency the band was to blame for a pyrotechnics show and that manslaughter charges could be filed."
The horrific Brazil nightclub fire this weekend is now thought to be the world's deadliest such tragedy in at least ten years. The deadly Brazil blaze recalls other tragic nightclub fires throughout the world, such as the fire that killed roughly 100 people in minutes when fire broke out at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island on Feb. 20, 2003. That fire was caused by pyrotechnics set off near the stage as rock group Great White performed.
In the fire that took so many lives and injured hundreds more 10 years ago at The Station, the pyrotechnics set sound-proofing foam and insulation on fire. There were also serious issues with exits within the club being blocked or insufficient to begin with. The place was crowded, perhaps overly so, and people couldn't get out. In the Station fire case, the club owners and Great White's tour manager were charged with 200 counts of manslaughter, two for each of the 100 people who died. The band members themselves were never charged, but were later added to a lawsuit.
In these early stages of investigation and reporting, it would seem similar circumstances may have led to the Brazil nightclub fire that killed 230 people Sunday. (This figure is approximate; 232 is the most recently confirmed death toll that we know of). The fire, once ignited, spread so quickly that people were dying of smoke inhalation before they could get out of the possibly over-crowded club, while hopefully relatively few others may have fallen and been crushed in the throngs trying to escape. It is truly a horror almost too grim to imagine, and it is difficult to even write these things. Our hearts break at the thought of so many lives forever changed by this tragedy.
Officials in the Brazil fire say bodies stacked near the one exit at Kiss nightclub made it harder for survivors to scramble out and rescue crews to get in. In one of the saddest reports to come out of this story, officials have also reported that they found dozens of bodies, up to 50 terrified people who perished in their fear, inside a bathroom in the nightclub. Police believe the bathroom door was mistaken as an exit in the panic. Toxic fumes from burning sound-proofing foam would have also contributed to the debilitating and confusing effects of the smoke that rapidly spread through the club and into the lungs of the victims.
It remains to be seen who will ultimately be held responsible for these deaths. According to some reports, the band Gurizada Fandangueir is already seeing backlash online since it is reported a member started the fire. Some witnesses say the club seemed packed well beyond its legal occupancy capacity.
Music is supposed to bring people together. No one wants to see loss of life at a social gathering place full of young people enjoying themselves, and the night, together in one space. In this moment of enormous grief, before blame is officially placed, let us simply mourn.
For more on the 2003 The Station fire, which Great White lead singer Jack Russell was recently going to commemorate with a memorial concert on Feb. 7 until the idea was nixed earlier this month (LA Times), click here.