The weekend blaze that killed 234 people at a nightclub in southern Brazil is being blamed on a cheap flare used by a band known for its onstage pyrotechnic displays, according to the state police inspector on Tuesday.
Inspector Marcelo Arigony told reporters at a news conference today that members of the band knowingly purchased flares intended for outdoor use because they only cost $1.25 each – compared to $35 for an indoor flare.
"The flare lit was for outdoor use only, and the people who lit them know that," said Arigony. "They chose to buy those because they were cheaper than those that can be used indoors."
Also today, the Rio Grande do Sul state forensics department increased the number of deaths from 231 to 234 to account for three other victims who weren’t included in the original list of the dead. Over 120 additional people have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation and burns, with dozens of them in critical condition.
Witnesses say the blaze began around 2:30 a.m. after a flare was lit by Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band that has made pyrotechnics a trademark of its shows. According to police, a spark from the flare apparently came into contact with the club’s ceiling that was covered with highly combustible insulating foam, prompting a massive fire with thick, toxic smoke that spread rapidly throughout the Kiss nightclub.
Initial attempts to put the blaze out failed due to a malfunctioning fire extinguisher at Kiss. To compound matters, the club reportedly did not have a fire alarm or a sprinkler system – and had only one working exit for the massive crowd of panicked partygoers to flee through.
Around 50 of the victims were found in the club's two bathrooms. According to Arigony, the lead investigator into the deadly blaze, people headed for the bathroom doors because were the only lights that could be seen in the dark club, causing patrons to mistakenly think they were exits.
"There were diverse irregularities," he said. "Any child could have seen that this establishment should not have been open."
Since the fire, a consumer complaint hotline has received more than 60 calls denouncing hazardous conditions at other night spots, theaters, supermarkets, schools, hospitals and shopping malls around southern Brazil.
No evidence was found during a search Monday night, and computers storing images recorded by the club's security cameras have not yet been located. According to a local TV network, a police officer said the owners of Kiss insist the club's closed-circuit camera system hasn't worked in months.
Both owners of Kiss, as well as two of the band members, have been provisionally detained – and a judge has frozen the assets of the club's owners pending the investigation.
State safety codes say clubs like Kiss should have one fire extinguisher per every 1,500 square feet, as well as multiple emergency exits. Limits on the number of people admitted to the club are also to be strictly respected, none of which Kiss had in place when one of the deadliest club fires of all time took 234 lives over the weekend.