Outdoor flare started club fire

People gather Monday to honor the victims of a fatal fire at Kiss nightclub in a plaza on the surroundings of the club in Santa Maria, Brazil. A blaze raced through the crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said.

People gather Monday to honor the victims of a fatal fire at Kiss nightclub in a plaza on the surroundings of the club in Santa Maria, Brazil. A blaze raced through the crowded nightclub in southern Brazil early Sunday, killing more than 230 people as the air filled with deadly smoke and panicked party-goers stampeded toward the exits, police and witnesses said.

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — 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.

Inspector Marcelo Arigony told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that 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 say 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.

Police investigator Arigony said people headed to the bathrooms because the only lights in the dark club were coming from there, and the patrons mistook them for exits.

“There were diverse irregularities,” he said. “Any child could have seen that this establishment should not have been open.”

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 government of the country’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, promised tougher security regulations for nightclubs and other places where many people gather.

Since the fire, a Rio de Janeiro consumer complaint hotline has received more than 60 calls denouncing hazardous conditions at night spots, theaters, supermarkets, schools, hospitals and shopping malls around the state. Blocked emergency exits and nonexistent fire alarms and extinguishers top the list of most common complaints.

Most of the dead were college students 18 to 21 years old, but they also included some minors. Almost all died from smoke inhalation rather than burns. The Rio Grande do Sul state health secretary, Ciro Simoni, said 84 of the injured remained were in serious condition on Tuesday.

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