Fox news is reporting that at least 200 people were killed in a nightclub fire in southern Brazil early Sunday morning. There are conflicting reports as to the number of concert goers killed, with some estimates over 250.
Luiza Sousa, a civil police official in Santa Maria, told Reuters the blaze at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria started when a member of the band or its production team ignited a flare, setting fire to the ceiling. The fire spread “in seconds,” Sousa said.
As is usual with a scene of this magnitude, there is some confusion as to the source of the fire. Col. Adilomar Silva, the regional coordinator of civil defense stated that the acoustical insulation caught fire during the pyrotechnic display, but stopped short of blaming it for the blaze, saying the cause was still under investigation.
Firefighters at the scene were using sledge hammers and axes to knock down exterior walls to open up more exits from the building. In television footage from the scene families and friends could be seen sobbing and searching for information outside a nearby sporting complex, where bodies were taken for identification.
“It was really fast. There was a lot of smoke, really dark smoke,” survivor Aline Santos Silva, 29, told Globonews TV. “We were only able to get out quickly because we were in a VIP area close to the door.”
President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile and was returning to Brazil following the blaze, her spokesperson said.
Police described it as the worst tragedy ever to affect Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state, Band News said.
Past incidents blamed on the use of pyrotechnics include a 2003 fire at a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island killing 100 people, another fire in 2004 in a Buenos Aires nightclub killing close to 200 people, and in 2009 an explosion killing 100 people in Russia.
The Kiss nightclub is popular with young people in Santa Maria, drawing between 2,000 and 3,000 people a night on the weekends. This weekend students were celebrating the end of summer as students return to school on Monday.