SANTA MARIA, Brazil – There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. And when a band member tried to put out a fire that had been started by pyrotechnics, the extinguisher didn’t work.
All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world’s worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.
Funerals began Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed night spot.
According to state safety codes here, clubs should have one fire extinguisher every 1,500 square feet as well as multiple emergency exits. Limits on the number of people admitted are to be strictly respected. None of that appears to have happened at the Santa Maria nightclub.
“A problem in Brazil is that there is no control of how many people are admitted in a building,” said Joao Daniel Nunes, a civil engineer in nearby Porto Alegre. “They never are clearly stated, and nobody controls how many people enter these nightclubs.”
Santa Maria’s mayor, Jose Fortunati, told Radio Gaucha that dozens of nightspots were closed last year for failing to meet norms.
Brazilian police said they detained three people in connection with the blaze, while the newspaper O Globo said on its website that a fourth person had surrendered to police. Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Jr. said the detentions were part of the ongoing police probe and those detained can be held for up to five days.
Vieira declined to identify those detained, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora quotes lawyer Jader Marques saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held. Globo reported that the fourth person detained was another club co-owner. G1, Globo Television’s Internet portal, reported that Spohr acknowledged the club’s operating license was not up to date but said the pyrotechnics show started the blaze.
Zero Hora said police also detained two members of the band. The band’s guitarist told Brazilian media he saw flames lick the ceiling after the group’s spark machine was deployed.
More than 100 people remained hospitalized with smoke inhalation, officials said.
National Health Minister Alexandre Padilha cautioned that the death toll could worsen dramatically. Speaking to media in Santa Maria, he said that 75 of those injured were in critical condition and could die.
The event raises questions of whether Brazilian authorities are up to the task of ensuring safety in such venues ahead of it hosting next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.