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Neglect, errors led to Brazil club inferno

Extinguisher did not work; no sprinklers found

Mourners gathered outside the Kiss nightclub Monday in Santa Maria, Brazil. Funerals began for the more than 230 victims, most of them college students 18 to 21 years old.

Marcelo Sayao/EPA

Mourners gathered outside the Kiss nightclub Monday in Santa Maria, Brazil. Funerals began for the more than 230 victims, most of them college students 18 to 21 years old.

SANTA MARIA, Brazil — There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. And when a band member tried to put out a fire that had been started by pyrotechnics, the extinguisher didn’t work.

All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world’s worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with more than 230 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in mourning.

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Brazilian police said they detained three people in connection with the blaze, and the newspaper O Globo said on its website that a fourth person had surrendered to police. Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior said they were being detained for questioning and can be held for up to five days.

Vieira declined to identify those detained, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora said Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held. Globo reported that the fourth person detained was another club co-owner.

Zero Hora said police also detained two members of the band. The band’s guitarist told Brazilian media he saw flames reach sound-proof insulation on the ceiling after the group’s pyrotechnic machine was deployed.

The tragedy appears to mirror the fire at The Station club in West Warwick, R.I., when pyrotechnics from a band set acoustic insulation on fire in 2003, leading to an inferno that killed 100.

In Brazil, funerals for the victims began on Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed night spot.

According to state safety codes here, clubs should have one fire extinguisher every 1,500 square feet as well as multiple emergency exits. Limits on the number of people admitted are to be strictly respected. None of that appears to have happened at the Santa Maria nightclub.

‘‘A problem in Brazil is that there is no control of how many people are admitted in a building,’’ said Joao Daniel Nunes, a civil engineer in nearby Porto Alegre.

Santa Maria’s mayor, Jose Fortunati, told Radio Gaucha that dozens of night spots were closed last year for failing to meet norms.

‘‘At that time, we had lots of protest from those who frequented them, but I think that today people understand it better and that at times hard stands must be taken so that steps are taken to not put people’s lives at risk,’’ Fortunati said.

National Health Minister Alexandre Padilha said Monday that the official death toll was 231, but it could worsen dramatically. More than 100 people remained hospitalized for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation, with about 75 of them are in critical condition.

Paulo Afonso Beltrame, a doctor helping coordinate the emergency response, said he was optimistic at least some of those most seriously injured would pull through.

‘‘It’s impossible to predict what will happen, because they are all in a very delicate state, but there’s hope for all of them,’’ said Beltrame, adding that more than 40 survivors had been sent to neighboring cities for treatment. ‘‘One of the problems we’re having here is that all these people need to be on respirators and we don’t have enough respirators in the city.’’

The event raises questions of whether Brazilian authorities are up to the task of ensuring safety when it hosts next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Some critics have said conditions in many Brazilian bars and clubs are ripe for another deadly blaze. In addition to modernizing sometimes outdated safety codes and ensuring sufficient inspectors, people have to change their way of thinking and respect safety regulations, they say.

Most of the victims were college students 18 to 21 years old. They generally died from smoke inhalation rather than burns.

Rodrigo Martins, a guitarist for the group Gurizada Fandangueira, told Globo TV network in an interview Monday that the flames broke out minutes after the deployment of a pyrotechnic machine that fans out colored sparks, at around 2:30 a.m.

‘‘I felt that something was falling from the roof and I looked up and I saw the fire was spreading,’’ Martins said. He said security guards came with an extinguisher but it didn’t work.

He added that the club was packed and estimated the crowd at about 1,200 to 1,300 people.

Martins confirmed that the group’s accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other band members made it out safely. Martins said he thought Jacques made it out of the building and later returned to save his accordion.

Police inspector Antonio Firmino said it appeared the club’s ceiling was covered with an insulating foam made from a combustible material that ignited with the pyrotechnics.

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