Yet another Tragic Nightclub Fire!

Today we hear the news of a tragic nightclub fire in Brazil which has claimed the lives of at least 180 young people, with at least 200 more injured.  The fire is reported to have occurred in the early hours of the morning of the 27 January in the Kiss Nightclub in Santa Maria,Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil.  According to unconfirmed reports in The Independent newspaper, the fire allegedly started when a band member started a fireworks display on stage which set alight sound proofing.  While the nature of the sound proofing has not yet been confirmed, it was probably (untreated) Polyurethane (PU) foam, which is cheap to obtain and easy to put up.  If correct, this will be frighteningly similar to the Station Nightclub fire in Rhode Island USA of February 2003 which claimed the lives of 100 people and injured over 200 others.

In the Rhode Island case, fire works started by the band set alight PU foam which was used as sound proofing cladding on the walls.  The PU rapidly burnt producing thick choking smoke, laden with deadly Carbon Monoxide gas and Hydrogen Cyanide gas.  People were rapidly overcome by the toxic gases and the rapid resulting flashover.  Coupled fire and evacuation computer simulations of the Rhode Island nightclub fire produced by FSEG suggest that after approximately 100 seconds from ignition, around 100 people would be dead due to the inhalation of toxic fire gases and the effects of flashover.  In the Rhode Island case, while the club was full, it was within legal limits and the nightclub had four exits (including the main exit), but the majority of the patrons tried to use the main entrance, the exit that they used to come into the club.

Media accounts are suggesting that between 300 and 2000 people were in the Kiss Nightclub at the time of the fire.  It is also not clear how many exits the nightclub had, media reports suggest that the nightclub had only one emergency exit and that fire fighters had to make a hole in the wall to assist people to escape.  As the Rhode Island Nightclub fire demonstrated, fires in such environments, fuelled by PU foam will spread extremely rapidly producing large amounts of highly toxic gases, providing people in the crowed venue little time to get out.

If the reports in the media are correct, then it is surprising that only 180 people have lost their lives.  I would not be surprised if the death toll rises, especially if the occupancy is more than 300.  Large crowds, within a confined space, whose walls are clad with combustible PU foam, with limited means of egress, probably in the dark, a number of who are probably intoxicated and then allowing the use of pyrotechnics is a recipe for disaster.   Indeed, building regulations and planning permission should not permit such death traps to exist in the first place and enforcement authorities should ensure that they do not occur.

Once the blame game starts, I hope that the bereaved families do not simply point their finger at the nightclub owner but look beyond this, to their local government authorities that have responsibility for planning permission and building control and to enforcement authorities that have responsibility for inspecting premises.  It is too easy to simply blame the owner.  More importantly, to do so will simply allow this type of tragedy to happen again and again.

Furthermore, while this type of disaster can happen anywhere in the world, and it has — USA, Russia, China and Argentina to name just four recent disasters – it is to be hoped that a country with the responsibility of hosting the next Football World Cup and the Olympics, will ensure that their building regulations and the enforcement of those regulations are fit for purpose.   Not simply for the new build stadia, but for all the existing hotels, transportation hubs and entertainment venues that will be enjoyed by millions of tourists from around the world.

Finally, I wonder how long it is going to take before the media, and local government officials begin to attribute “panic” as a contributory factor in this tragedy, conveniently diverting attention from other potential systemic failures.


Rhode Island Fire Simulation:

Rhode Island Coupled Fire and Evacuation simulation:

Paper describing simulations:

Paper 223. “Coupled Fire/Evacuation Analysis of the Station Nightclub Fire”. Galea E.R., Wang, Z., Veeraswamy, A., Jia, F.,Lawrence, P., and Ewer, J. Proceedings of 9th IAFSS SymposiumKarlsruhe,Germany, 2008, ISNN 1817-4299, pp 465-476. DOI:10.3801/IAFSS.FSS.9-465


SKY NEWS: Brazil Nightclub Fire Tragedy: 180 Killed.

The Independent: ‘At least 180 killed’ inBrazilnightclub fire after pyrotechnics set sound-proofing alight


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