Saturday 24 August 2019

Romanian nightclub blaze hero mourned by hundreds

A police officer places a candle, collected from people waiting to pay respects to the victims of a fire in Bucharest (AP)
A police officer places a candle, collected from people waiting to pay respects to the victims of a fire in Bucharest (AP)

A hero of a Bucharest nightclub fire that killed at least 32 people has been buried, drawing hundreds of weeping mourners to the popular photographer and blogger's funeral.

Mourners included the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church who had to enter the church by the back gate.

Claudiu Petre, a kind-hearted and bearded 36-year-old rocker, returned to the blaze in the Colectiv nightclub on Friday night to rescue a woman and then went back into the inferno in the basement club. He was never seen alive again.

Colleagues and friends recalled his final moments as they bade farewell to Mr Petre, who President Klaus Iohannis decorated posthumously for his "bravery, altruism and dedication" in a memorial service lasting more than two hours.

"I saw the first fireworks show at the club," photographer Valentin Diaconescu, 41, said. "And then I left about 5-10 minutes before the fire broke out as I had another event to cover."

"The last conversation I had with him was about London, where he'd gone about two weeks ago, to take photos of a band called Coma."

Witnesses say the blaze erupted when a spark ignited flammable foam, sending panicked people stampeding to the single-door exit.

Mr Petre was seen dragging the girlfriend of another photographer out of the club. He then went back into the burning basement a second time and that was the last time anyone saw him.

The nightclub's three owners have been detained for questioning, and dozens of people remain in hospital with serious burns.

Popular and respected among rockers and photographers, Mr Petre, an only child who was unmarried, was a physics graduate who made a living from an IT business.

Best friend Alexandra Siru, 30, said he was "an intelligent person with a big heart".

Patriarch Daniel made a surprise visit to the site of the memorial service, entering the church by the back gate, thus avoiding mourners who have been critical of the Romanian Orthodox Church for failing to address public grief unlike clerics from other churches.

Only friends and family were allowed into the courtyard of St Dumitru church.

In a tribute to Mr Petre's popularity, friends said they felt his spirit was still among them.

"He was - no he is - a wonderful person, cheerful, he helped everyone, he was the life and soul of the party," Mr Diaconescu said.

"He is all of those things. I don't want to talk about him as if he's gone."

PA Media

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