Sunday morning, 233 people died and more than 100 were injured in a nightclub fire in Brazil. The fire is being called one of the deadliest the world has seen in almost 10 years and occurred at Kiss, a nightclub located in Santa Maria, Brazil. The club was hosting an event for a local university, the Federal University of Santa Maria, and was said to be at its maximum capacity of between 1,000 and 2,000 occupants.

The cause is still being investigated, but witnesses are claiming that it was likely due to the live band’s faulty pyrotechnics. The band, Gurizada Fandangueira, began playing at 2:15 AM.  According to the band’s guitarist, Rodrigo Martins, they were five songs into their set when he noticed the roof was on fire. He said, although they have never had problems before, it could have been caused by a machine they use to create a luminous effect with sparks.

Other witnesses claimed that one of the band members lit an emergency flare or firework and waved it along with the beat of the music. Eye witness, Michele Pereira, stated, “The band that was on stage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward. At that point the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds, it spread.” The fire ignited foam sound insulation material on the ceiling and engulfed the club within seconds.

Brazilian officials are investigating key issues, including whether exits were clearly marked or whether the club had exceeded its capacity. There were also reports that security guards may have initially prevented egress by trying to ensure that patrons paid their tabs before exiting the facility. There are questions about club’s operating license, as well. Police said it was in process of being renewed, but it is unclear if it was legal for the club to be open.

Pyrotechnic performances have been blamed in several other tragic nightclub fires, including one that killed 194 in Buenos Aires and another that killed 152 in Russia. In one of the deadliest nightclub fires in the United States, a pyrotechnics display during a rock band’s live performance caused the fire at Station Night Club in West Warwick, Rhode Island, killing 100. The band, Great White, used pyrotechnics that ignited foam insulation installed around and over the stage. In this tragedy, security guards also initially prevented egress by not allowing patrons to access one of the available exits to escape the fire. Instead, occupants headed towards the door in which they entered, causing a stampede in the narrow hallway that led to the doorway. This resulted in blocking the exit and caused many of the deaths and injuries of the incident.

This past Sunday’s nightclub fire in Brazil is the worst the world has seen since 2000, when 309 people were killed after a welding accident set fire to a club in Luoyang, China. The list of deadly nightclub fires include:

  • 2013 – Kiss Nightclub fire in Santa Maria, Brazil; pyrotechnics believed to ignite fire killing 233
  • 2009 – Lame Horse Nightclub fire in Perm, Russia; fireworks display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with branches killing 152
  • 2004 – República Cromañón Nightclub fire Buenos Aires, Argentina; pyrotechnic flare ignited the foam in the ceiling killing 194
  • 2003 – Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island; pyrotechnics ignited foam insulation that had been installed around and over the stage killing 100
  • 2000 – Disco in Luoyang, China; welding accident ignited a fire that killed 309
  • 1996 – Ozone Disco Pub fire in Quezon City, Philippians; killed 162
  • 1977 – Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Southgate, Kentucky; killed 165
  • 1942 – Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, Massachusetts; killed 492
  • 1940 – Rhythm Club fire in Natchez, Mississippi; Spanish moss hanging from the ceiling ignited, killing 209

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) offers tips to help the public keep safe when in an assembly occupancy. These tips include: locate exits immediately, check for clear paths to exits, and during an emergency – get out and stay out!

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.