SANTA MARIA, Brazil — There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. When a band member tried to put out a fire 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 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian college town in shock and mourning.
Funerals began on Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed club.
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.
Brazilian police said they detained three people in connection with the blaze, while the newspaper O Globo said on its website that a fourth person had surrendered to police. Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior said the detentions were part of the ongoing police inquiry and those detained can be held for up to five days.
Vieira declined to identify those detained, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora quotes lawyer Jader Marques saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held. Globo reported that the fourth person detained was another club co-owner. G1, Globo Television's Web portal, reported that Spohr acknowledged the club's operating license was not up to date but said the pyrotechnics started the blaze.
More than 100 people remained hospitalized for smoke, local officials said.
National Health Minister Alexandre Padilha cautioned that the death toll could worsen. Speaking to media in Santa Maria, he said that 75 of those injured were in critical condition and could die.
Wider safety concerns
The event raises questions of whether Brazil is up to the task of ensuring safety in such venues ahead of hosting 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 In addition to modernizing sometimes outdated safety codes and ensuring sufficient inspectors, people have to change their way of thinking and respect safety regulations.
Funeral services were held for several of the 231 victims, most of them college students 18 to 21 years old. Some of the victims were minors. Most died from smoke inhalation rather than burns.