Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cheap flares used in site of deadly club fire

Death toll in Brazilian tragedy rises to 234

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SANTA MARIA, Brazil -- Penny-pinching by a band known for its onstage pyrotechnic displays may have cost more than 230 people their lives at a nightclub in southern Brazil, according to a state police inspector leading the investigation into this weekend's deadly blaze.

Insp. Marcelo Arigony told reporters at a news conference Tuesday members of the band knowingly purchased flares meant for outdoor use because they cost a mere $1.25 a piece, compared with the $35 price tag for an indoor flare.

"The flare lit was for outdoor use only, and the people who lit them know that," said Arigony. "They chose to buy those because they were cheaper than those that can be used indoors."

The repercussions of that choice continued to send shock waves through Santa Maria, a college town of 260,000 people that's been stunned by the early Sunday morning tragedy in the Kiss nightclub.

The Rio Grande do Sul state forensics department raised the death toll Tuesday from 231 to 234 to account for three victims who did not appear on the original list of the dead. Authorities said more than 120 people remain hospitalized for smoke inhalation and burns, with dozens of them in critical condition.

The blaze began at around 2:30 a.m. local time, during a performance by Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band that had made the use of pyrotechnics, a trademark of their shows.

Police have said the club's ceiling was covered with an insulating foam made from a combustible material that appeared to have ignited after it came in contact with a spark from a flare lit during the performance.

After the fire extinguisher malfunctioned, the blaze spread throughout the packed club at lightning speed, emitting a thick, toxic smoke. Because Kiss apparently had neither an alarm nor a sprinkler system and only one working exit, the crowd was left to search desperately for a way out.

About 50 of the victims were found in the club's two bathrooms, where the blinding smoke caused them to believe the doors were exits.

Outraged locals marched through Santa Maria Tuesday to demand justice for the dead, an unusual move in a country where public protests are rare. The demonstration interrupted the police news conference, even as Arigony pledged to investigate everyone involved in the tragedy -- including the authorities charged with making sure such establishments are up to code, such as firefighters and city officials.

The fire inspired nationwide action, and several mayors said they would crack down on nightclubs and other venues in their cities.

The blaze was the deadliest in Brazil since at least 1961, when a fire that swept through a circus killed 503 people in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 A9

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