On February 20, it will have been ten years since the Station, a rock venue in West Warwick, Rhode Island, went up in flames. 100 people died, including a young actor and musician with whom I had worked once, a band's career was interrupted, and the club owners were prosecuted.
So close to that sad anniversary, the major news today is of a bigger, deadlier nightclub fire in Brazil that eerily echoes the fire in Rhode Island. More died in this incident: over 230 are dead, with many in the hospital.
The list of similarities between the Station fire and the fire at the Kiss club in Santa Maria is striking.
- Each fire was ignited by pyrotechnic effects lit by the band.
- At each club, there was a lack of alternative exits, leading the crowd to surge at the main exit and causing a crush. At the Station, one exit was chained shut to prevent people from sneaking in without paying the cover. At Kiss, there appeared to be only one exit, back out the main entrance. At both locations, firefighters arrived to find a stack of bodies blocking the entrance.
- Each fire moved very fast. In a 20-minute, mostly unedited video of the Station fire, the fire's progress can be viewed in real time: the building went up in just a few minutes. It was the same at Kiss, spreading so rapidly little could be done. The place filled with smoke and victims became disoriented. Fifty of the dead were found in a bathroom.
- In each incident, one of the musicians perished. Great White guitarist Ty Longley died in Rhode Island. In Santa Maria, accordionist Danilo Jacques of the band Gurizada Fandangueira never made it out of the club.
- In both incidents, security staff interfered with people's escape. At the Station, the band (minus its guitarist) fled through an exit near the stage. When patrons attempted to follow them, a bouncer stopped them because that exit was supposed to be for the band only. At Kiss, security staff also initially blocked people from fleeing because they had not yet paid their tab; one wants to believe they stopped this when they saw the place going up in flames.
- Both clubs were full beyond capacity, in addition to having insufficient or blocked fire exits.
So close to the tenth anniversary of this painful event in Rhode Island, the tragedy has repeated itself with even more casualties, and so many young people dead.
[Image: where the Station once stood, there is now a permanent memorial to the victims of that 2003 fire.]