At Least 96 Dead In Nightclub Fire

Members of the band Great White on stage at The Station nightclub as pyrotechnics display catches ceiling on fire, West Warwick, R.I. (photo taken from video). The club quickly went up in flames and little was left of the building. WPRI

Rhode Island's governor says at least 96 bodies have been recovered at the scene of the nightclub fire apparently sparked by the rock band Great White's pyrotechnics display. Club officials said Friday the special effects were used without permission.

Late Friday, Gov. Don Carcieri vowed officials were working "24-hours around the clock" to identify the victims and bring closure to anxious families. At the time of the press conference, Carcieri said that only 7 bodies had been identified thus far and another 8 were expected to be easily identifiable.

The death toll rose as firefighters searched through the charred shell of the single-story wood building.

"This building went up fast, nobody had a chance," Carcieri said.

More than 180 people were injured as frantic mobs rushed to escape the blaze; about 35 of the injured are in critical condition.

It was the deadliest U.S. nightclub fire since 164 people were killed at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, in 1977. It also came less than a week after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightspot.

Some 300 people were crammed inside The Station in West Warwick, about 15 miles southwest of Providence, to hear Great White, an '80s heavy metal band, CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

The blaze broke out at about 11 p.m. Thursday during the band's first song. A fireworks display that was part of the show apparently ignited a substance in the ceiling, and flames quickly engulfed the club.

Brian Butler was filming the concert for CBS affiliate WPRI-TV and saw the flames spread across the ceiling and people rush for the doors.

"People were trying to help others and people were smashing out windows, and people were pulling on people and nobody cared how many cuts they got, nobody cared about the bruises or the burns," Butler said. "They just wanted out of the building."

Fire Chief Charles Hall said the club recently passed a fire inspection, but didn't have a city permit for pyrotechnics. The building, which is at least 60 years old, was not required to have a sprinkler system because of its small size.

The pyrotechnics were used without permission from the club, said Kathleen Hagerty, a lawyer representing club owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian.

"No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given," she said.

The band's singer, Jack Russell, said the manager checked with the club before the show and the use of pyrotechnics was approved. And Paul Woolnough, president of Great White's management company, said tour manager Dan Biechele "always checks" with club officials before pyrotechnics are used.

The owner of a well-known New Jersey nightclub said Great White failed to tell him they were using pyrotechnics for a concert there a week ago.

"Our stage manager didn't even know it until it was done," said Domenic Santana, owner of the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. "My sound man freaked out because of the heat and everything, and they jeopardized the health and the safety of our patrons."

Most of the bodies were found near The Station's front exit, some of them burned and others dead from smoke inhalation. Hall also said some appeared to have been trampled in the rush to escape.

"They tried to go out the same way they came in. That was the problem," Hall said. "They didn't use the other three fire exits."

The ages of the victims ranged from the teens to the late 30s.

"As much as we can prepare for anything like this the stark reality is hard to imagine," said Dr. Joseph Amaral, a surgeon and the hospital's president. "One of the most remarkable things for me is the degree of inhalation injuries that everyone sustained."

Firefighters worked through the morning Friday to pull charred bodies from the building as onlookers watched, worried about missing friends.

"They were completely burned. They had pieces of flesh falling off them," said Michelle Craine, who was waiting to hear about a friend who was missing. "It was the worst thing I've ever seen."

Witnesses described seeing dozens of people dash toward for the door after the fire began, and some of those who escaped were later seen staggering into a triage center. Rescuers pulled badly injured victims from the fire as ladder trucks poured water over the flaming skeleton of the building.

"All of a sudden I felt a lot of heat," said Russell, the band's singer. "I see the foam's on fire. ... The next thing you know the whole place is in flames."

He said he started dousing the fire with a water bottle but couldn't put it out, then all the lights went out.

"I just couldn't believe how fast it went up," he said. Russell said one of his band members, guitarist Ty Longley, was among the missing.

"It was calm at first, everyone thought it was part of the act," said John DiMeo, who was sitting at the bar near the front door when the fire started. "It happened so fast."

Great White is a heavy metal band whose hits include "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and "Rock Me." The band emerged in the Los Angeles metal scene of the late 1980s, selling 6 million albums and earning a Grammy nomination in 1990.

They continued to tour and make albums in recent years, maintaining a strong allegiance of fans from their glory days of the 1980s.

It was the second tragedy at a U.S. club in four days. Early Monday, 21 people were killed and more than 50 were injured in the Chicago melee, which began after a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight.

The worst nightclub fire in the United States was Nov. 28, 1942, when 491 people died at Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub.
  • Francie Grace

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