Brazil nightclub fire recalls a 2003 tragedy in Rhode Island

NEW YORK Sun Jan 27, 2013 4:54pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Brazilian nightclub fire that killed more than 200 people on Sunday recalled a similar tragedy a decade ago in Rhode Island, where 100 people died when a nightclub's highly flammable insulation was ignited during a rock band's pyrotechnics show.

In both cases, police investigators cited the use of indoor pyrotechnics, sound insulation catching fire, blocked exits and potential overcrowding.

"We appear to have very short memories," said John Barylick, author of "Killer Show," a book about the Rhode Island fire, and a lead attorney representing victims in that case. "This is exactly the perfect storm that we had at the Station nightclub 10 years ago."

Police say the blaze at the Boate Kiss club in Santa Maria, in southern Brazil, spread within seconds after a flare ignited during a pyrotechnics performance appeared to set the ceiling on fire.

Many of the estimated 500 people inside were unable to find exits as dark smoke filled the large room, and at least one exit was blocked, police said.

The tragedy at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island came during a performance of the band Great White and was the deadliest rock concert in U.S. history. It led to sweeping changes in fire safety rules, and heavy penalties for those held accountable.

On that night in 2003, the small wooden club became engulfed in flames and many in the over-capacity crowd of 458 people were fatally trapped. Aside from the 100 people killed, some 200 were injured in the inferno.

The band's tour manager and two men who owned the nightclub pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2006. And in 2009, hundreds of survivors and victims' relatives reached a $176 million settlement with some 50 defendants held responsible.

The state of Rhode Island, meanwhile, tightened its fire codes, requiring sprinkler systems in places of public assembly, and made it a requirement that nightclub employees be trained in fire safety. Club owners banned indoor fireworks at concerts.

This fall, the owner of the land where the Station club once stood donated the site for a memorial to the victims.

The disaster in Brazil also rekindled memories of a 2004 blaze at the Cromagnon Club in Buenos Aires that killed 200. In that incident, a concert-goer ignited a flare.

Following the Argentine fire, Buenos Aires set up a new inspection agency in an effort to restore the credibility of health and safety monitoring at music venues and nightclubs in the capital. But critics say corruption is rife and that much remains to be done.

Barylick's advice for nighclub patrons is to be vigilant.

"No matter what the venue does I think the takeaway from this is, we are our own best fire marshals and we can't depend on others," he said.

"Most important, when you get to your seat, before you do anything else, find your nearest exit, and it probably won't be the one you came in by. That's the best you can do," Barylick said.

(Additional reporting by Helen Popper in Buenos Aires; Editing by Edith Honan and Bill Trott)

FILED UNDER: