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Fireworks Restricted After Fire Kills 112

ReutersA video screengrab showing people rushing out of the Khromaya Loshad nightclub in Perm to escape the fire.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu banned fireworks at many New Year’s festivities and President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a review of fire safety legislation after a pyrotechnics show ignited a fire at a Perm nightclub that killed at least 112 people.

(Click here for photo gallery.)

A Perm court on Sunday night sanctioned the arrest of four people on charges of causing multiple deaths by negligence and breaking fire safety rules in the blaze early Saturday at the Khromaya Loshad (Lame Horse) nightclub in central Perm.

Nightclub Disasters of the Last Decade

A blaze sparked by an indoor firework show ripped through a crowded Perm nightclub on Friday night, killing more than 100 people as revelers stampeded for the exits. One of the worst fires of the last century took place on Nov. 28, 1942, in the United States when 487 people were killed in a fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston.

Following is a chronology of some of the more recent fires to have hit discotheques, nightclubs and halls:

Oct. 30, 1999: Fifty-five people were killed and about 75 injured in a fire at a karaoke bar in the South Korean port of Inchon.

March 29, 2000: A fire at the illegal Paradise video parlor, an adult movie theater, killed 74 people in Jiaozuo in China’s Henan province.

Oct. 20, 2000: At least 20 people were killed after they were trapped in a fire at a trendy Mexico City dance club that had been shut by authorities 11 times previously.

Dec. 25, 2000: A Christmas Day fire killed 309 disco revelers and construction workers at a dance hall in a commercial center in the Chinese city of Luoyang.

Jan. 1, 2001: Thirteen people were killed and 180 injured in a fire in a cafe packed with teenagers celebrating the New Year in Volendam, Netherlands.

July 20, 2002: A fire started by a juggler with blazing batons ripped through the Utopia disco in the Peruvian capital, Lima, killing 14 people.

Dec. 1, 2002: Fifty people were killed, most suffocated by smoke, when fire swept through the packed Goajira bar and club in Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

Feb. 17, 2003: Twenty-one people were killed in a stampede in an illegally operated nightclub in Chicago when they tried to escape pepper spray used to break up a fight and are crushed behind blocked doors.

Feb. 20, 2003: Fire swept through a nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, during a pyrotechnics display at the start of a heavy metal concert, killing 96 people and injuring nearly 200.

Dec. 30, 2004: A blaze in a crowded nightclub in Buenos Aires killed 192 people and injured nearly 1,000. Cause of the fire is thought to have been a type of flare sold for New Year’s celebrations fired into the club’s ceiling, which was covered with foam.

May 8, 2006: A fire swept through a nightclub in the Thai resort of Pattaya, killing at least eight and injuring 54 others.

Nov. 27, 2006: Nine people were killed in a predawn fire that swept through a nightclub in the Dominican Republic capital, Santo Domingo.

Nov. 14, 2007: A fire swept through a Chinese karaoke bar, killing 11 people. The fire broke out at a bar in Chengde county in Hebei province, 230 kilometers northeast of Beijing.

April 19, 2008: At least 15 people died and 35 were injured when a fire ignited by fireworks swept through a crowded Quito nightclub in Ecuador.

Jan. 1, 2009: A blaze at a top Bangkok nightclub killed 61 people, including four foreigners. More than 100 people were injured as they stampeded out of the burning building.

— Reuters

The jailed suspects include nightclub owner Anatoly Zak, managing director Svetlana Yefremova, art director Oleg Fetkulov and Sergei Derbenyov, the businessman who installed the pyrotechnics blamed for the fire, officials said.

The charges carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

The court decided to hold off from charging a fifth suspect, the owner of the rooms rented by the club, because he is fighting for his life in the hospital after sustaining serious injuries in the fire.

The suspect was among 123 people being treated in hospitals in several Russian cities late Sunday. Many of those hospitalized were in serious condition, and the 112th death was a man who died Sunday night after being airlifted to a Moscow hospital.

Shoigu denounced what he described as the improper use of pyrotechnics in the nightclub, which was celebrating its eighth anniversary.

“The pyrotechnics installed on the stage had no right to be used in any possible way,” Shoigu said Saturday.

He ordered a “categorical ban” on fireworks at events with mass attendance until legislation regulating their use can be improved. Fireworks will be prohibited “in places of mass gatherings of people during the New Year’s and Christmas holidays,” including by “showmen and artists who like them,” Shoigu said.

Shoigu’s ministry could not be reached for clarification on the ban Sunday evening.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika ordered regional prosecutors to check all stores and warehouses with pyrotechnic products for compliance with safety rules.

Shoigu said the fire, which started at about 1 a.m. Saturday, began when fireworks hit the low ceiling and spread rapidly because of open windows and doors. People could not get out in the dark because the club had only one exit, accessible through a narrow staircase, he said.

An amateur video posted on the RIA-Novosti web site from the night of the fire shows the emcee standing in the club with a microphone, saying to two young women, “You are beautiful, you are desired, you are charming.”

The footage then shows sparks behind the wooden decorative paneling of the ceiling, as somebody yells, “We are on fire!” People start to push their way toward the exit as the fire spreads rapidly across the room. People who made it out into the street can be seen stripping off their burning clothing.

A total of 282 people were invited to the nightclub’s birthday celebration Friday night, Shoigu said.

Khromaya Loshad’s web site was down Sunday, but a cached copy advertises birthday festivities on Dec. 3, 4 and 5. “Free entrance before midnight to those wearing a birthday suit!” the advertisement says.

Witnesses saw nightclub owner Zak and managing director Yefremova flee the Khromaya Loshad together as a panicked crowd stampeded the club’s single exit, news reports said.

Zak’s lawyer, Igor Kashin, denied that his client owned the nightclub and said he was merely a friend of the director, Interfax reported. Zak was ranked as the 34th richest person in the Perm region last year by the regional news portal 59.ru.

Fire safety inspectors slapped the nightclub with two fines, for 1,800 rubles ($60) and 1,000 rubles, during a check a year ago, Shoigu said.

“We give out fines but can only close these kind of venues through a court decision,” he said at a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova.

Medvedev criticized the party’s organizers for not heeding the fire safety warnings and fines and called for them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“They have neither brains nor shame,” Medvedev said.

He demanded a review of fire safety legislation. “We should think about legislation regulating such events. It should be stricter,” he said.

The Investigative Committee said no traces of explosives were found at the nightclub, ruling out a terrorist attack as the cause for the fire.

The nightclub did not have an automatic fire extinguishing system, and most people died from smoke inhalation, the head of Perm’s branch of the Investigative Committee, Marina Zabbarova, said Sunday.

The Emergency Situations Ministry sent six planes and six helicopters to Perm, along with medicine and teams of doctors.

Eighty victims in critical condition have been airlifted to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Chelyabinsk, the Health and Social Development Ministry said.

Perm is a regional capital with a population of slightly less than 1 million.

Medvedev declared Monday as a national day of mourning, with flags lowered to half-mast and entertainment shows canceled on television and in theaters.

The first funerals were held Sunday as three people were buried at a Perm cemetery where city authorities allocated space for the fire victims, city administration spokesman Andrei Kamenskikh said.

The fire places the spotlight on serious problems like corruption and unprofessionalism among people who are responsible for fire safety regulation, State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov said. “Retirement homes that regularly have fires cannot afford to bribe fire safety officials, but nightclubs can,” Gudkov, a member of A Just Russia, told Interfax.

A fire at a nursing home in Podyelsk, in the republic of Komi, killed 23 people on Jan. 31, while 94 died in fires at two nursing homes in 2007.

More than 17,000 people die from fires yearly in Russia, and there have been several fires in nightclubs linked to negligence in recent years. In 2007, two bartenders caused a fire in a Moscow strip club killing 10 people when they threw a lighter at an ashtray full of alcohol. Last year, a short circuit gutted the well-known Diaghilev club in a fire that injured four people.

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