Sunday 28 December 2014

Club inferno 'started by 79p flare'

Published 30/01/2013 | 02:36

The inside of the Kiss nightclub where a fire killed more than 230 people in Santa Maria city, Brazil (AP/Policia Civil do Rio Grande do Sul)

Penny-pinching by a band known for its on-stage pyrotechnic displays may have cost more than 230 people their lives at a nightclub in southern Brazil, the policeman leading the investigation into the deadly blaze said.

Inspector Marcelo Arigony said members of the band knowingly bought flares meant for outdoor use because they cost just 79p each, compared with £22.30 for an indoor flare.

"The flare lit was for outdoor use only and the people who lit them know that," said Mr Arigony, adding that members of the group admitted regularly opting for the less expensive flares. "They chose to buy those because they were cheaper than those that can be used indoors."

Mr Arigony, whose cousin died in the fire, added: "The pyrotechnics were part of their show - the guys even wore gloves on stage so they wouldn't burn their hands."

The repercussions of the band's choice to use flares continued to send shockwaves through Santa Maria, a college town of 260,000 people stunned by the Sunday morning tragedy at the Kiss nightclub.

On Tuesday the Rio Grande do Sul state forensics department raised the death toll from 231 to 234 to account for three victims who did not appear on the original list of the dead. Authorities say more than 120 people remain in hospital for smoke inhalation and burns, dozens in a critical condition.

The blaze began at around 2.30am local time, during a performance by Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band that had made the use of pyrotechnics a trademark of their shows. The band's guitarist told the media that the 6,650 sq-ft club was packed with 1,200 to 1,300 people. Police have said the capacity for a club of that size is under 700 people.

Police said the club's ceiling was covered with insulating foam made from a combustible material that appeared to have caught fire after it came in contact with a spark from a flare lit during the performance.

After the fire extinguisher malfunctioned, the blaze spread throughout the packed club at lightning speed, emitting a thick, toxic smoke. Because Kiss apparently had neither an alarm nor a sprinkler system and only one working exit, the crowd was left to search desperately for a way out.

About 50 victims were found in the club's two bathrooms, where the blinding smoke caused them to believe the doors were exits. The foam, which emitted a toxic gas, was not proper soundproofing equipment and was probably only used to cut down on the echo inside the club, Mr Arigony said. He added that a full analysis of the foam was taking place. The malfunctioning fire extinguisher was not legal, he said, and the club's operating license had expired in August.

Press Association

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