Urban Fires, Part 2

Part two of this episode on urban fires deals with the Kiss nightclub fire in Brazil, The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island, Bradford Stadium fire, and the Great Chicago Fire. Guest firefighter Allan Newell critiques the fire science in such films as “Towering Inferno,” “In Old Chicago,” “Roxanne,” “Spider-Man,” Watchmen” and of course Ren & Stimpy.

Music: “Hot Club Stomp” by Mezz Mezzrow



11 Responses

  1. Very thorough research on the Kiss Nightclub fire, I’m impressed! This was a huge tragedy over here, and not a few souls were doomed to eternal damnation by the gleeful utterance of the words: “wow, I guess the party really caught fire!” 😀

    Here’s an extra bit of data and trivia I gleaned from local sources. Grab a bucket of popcorn, folks! This is going to be fun!

    Current bodycount: 239 dead, 131 injured at the time, 42 still in hospital to this day (most in intensive care). The vast majority of the people at the club at the time of the fire were students of the local university, who had rented the nightclub for their “Agromerados” (it’s a pun) party organized by the university’s agronomy students.

    The fire itself was started by the Gurizada Fandangueira (great pronounciation by Toren, the only thing mistake was the “gue” would be pronounced as “ghe” in this case. Portuguese is a silly language) singer, and the band is said to be well-known for their use of pyrotechnics (a fact the nightclub denies). Once the fire was spotted, both a bouncer and the singer tried to put it out with extinguishers, at least one of which malfunctioned.

    As you guys mentioned, the place was massively overcrowded. Stated capacity was 691 people, but 850 tickets to the party were sold and the nightclub staff themselves say that having 1000 guests at any time is usually a good night of business for the nightclub. Investigators claim around 1300 people were inside. The nightclub’s internal layout was also rather labyrinthine, as can be seen here: http://g1.globo.com/rs/rio-grande-do-sul/tragedia-incendio-boate-santa-maria-entenda/platb/
    Only one exit for both crew and guests, with narrow passageways. To make things worse, a folding screen partially blocked the 3-meter (10 feet!) wide exit, making it even more difficult for the guests to leave. Outside, there was a low fence in front of the door, meant to help organize the flow of guests going in and out, but which bottlenecked the crowd even after they left the building itself, trapping and trampling a few more people inside.

    Most people killed did indeed die of smoke inhalation, although not a few were trampled to death as they tried to reach the exits. Once the smoke took over, survivors said it became impossible to see anything. The smoke released by the burning foam insulation was also highly toxic, causing asphyxia to settle in even faster.

    Early reports indicated that for the first minute and a half of the fire, the bouncers thought the commotion was a fight or some other “routine” event, and so they locked the front door so people wouldn’t be able to leave without paying. This angle seems to have been dropped from the narrative fairly quickly. Other reports indicated the police was going after a young man recorded playing with the nightclub’s fire extinguishers (blasting people with CO2, mostly) a couple weeks before the tragedy, which would explain the malfunction at the time of the fire, but it seems nothing came out of that particular investigation.

    What about security footage, you might ask? Well, the nightclub’s owner informed the investigators that the nightclub’s security systems had malfunctioned over three months before the tragedy, and that it had been sent for repairs. Police is investigating whether the equipment was indeed broken or if it had been removed and the images recorded erased.

    But my favorite fact about the entire thing? You guys mentioned 50 people were found in the bathrooms. Actually, the number released by firefighters is… (drum roll, please…) 180+ bodies rescued from the bathrooms! Just imagine the panic that overtook the victims, to the point they managed to cram almost two hundred people in those pretty small rooms! Oof!

    And to end on a lighter note: one of the bartenders survived the fire by realizing the only place she could find clean air after the smoke started taking over the room was the refrigerator. She opened the door, took a deep breath, covered her mouth and nose with her shirt and rushed out, trusting her knowledge of the nightclub’s layout would see her to the exit. Her presence of mind alone wouldn’t have saved her, though: trying to jump over the bar counter, she fell and was trampled. But an unidentified man picked her up and carried her out to safety. She spent three days under intensive care but made a full recovery after a week. 🙂

    There were also reports of an unidentified guest witnessed diving in and out of the burning nightclub to rescue trapped victims. The most common count indicates he’s saved at least 14 people before going inside one last time, failing to leave as the flames kept raging on. Hollywoodian heroic sacrifice, anyone? If it’s true, that dude deserves a posthumous medal.

    1. The nightclub that burned was in Santa Maria, a town in the extreme southern state of Rio Grande do Sul!

      Aw, hell. I can’t believe I didn’t catch it the first time around, even with that huge write-up! I guess I’m just too used to crazy stuff happening in São Paulo. The Derp of the Week Award goes to me.

  2. Also, I think you guys have talked about it in the previous episode, but the firefighters spoke at length about just how heart-wrenching it is to have a room with almost 200 cell phones ringing incessantly as family members try to contact the victims. The happy tunes most people use to identify calls from their parents don’t make for very good funerary dirges, it seems.

  3. Just to set the record straight, the Kiss nightclub, in Brazil, is located at the city of Santa Maria, in Rio Grande do Sul state, not in São Paulo. Santa Maria is a college town and the fire was at a college party, that’s why it was so crowded. Santa Maria is as far from São Paulo as Ottawa is from Detroit.

  4. I remember watching the Bradford City football stadium fire unfold live at the time. Such a tragedy. I used to go and watch my local football sorry, soccer team, at that time and their stadium was an old, rundown facility too as were a lot of English grounds at the time. More that once small fire were put out before getting out of control. This was an accident waiting to happen

  5. loved these two episodes. i’m in architecture and you’d be amazed at how many people try to circumvent the rules cities put in place to keep them safe.

    i want to make them all listen to these two episodes and say “see, THIS is why i make you swing your doors out on assembly areas. THIS is why the rules are harsher for your non-sprinklered building.”

    what’s interesting also is that the great chicago fire helped revolutionize architecture. after the fire the city was a blank slate for rebuilding, and steel engineering and elevators let the city be built bigger and higher, with new codes in place.

  6. As it was said before, the Kiss Nightclub is not located in São Paulo, but there are some more corrections that need to be made:
    Prostitution is NOT legal in São Paulo, as it’s not anyplace in Brazil. But yes, there are brothels all over anyway.
    The mentioned nightclub where off-duty prostitutes go, this one is really in São Paulo, but it’s not called Kiss. This one is the Love Story. Never been there, so I am not sure if I can recomend it. Maybe this is the one where one of you have been? But as far as I know, Kiss Nightclub was just a regular nightclub.

    1. Corrections noted. I guess the number of times my friend’s friend pointed out the window of his car and said, “That’s a brothel.” at a place with a big neon sign – just made me think they were legal.

      So, what you’re saying is that Love Story didn’t burn down?!? Guys who are looking to meet off-duty prostitutes must be thanking their lucky stars…..

    1. Both the direct link and player on this page work for me. What behavior are you seeing?