Three detained for questioning in Brazil nightclub blaze

Livia Oliveira, mother of Heitor, one of the victims of the Kiss night club fire, kisses his coffin during his funeral at Santa Rita cementery in Santa Maria, on January 28, 2013. Brazilians were mourning the victims of a nightclub blaze in a small college town that left more than 230 people dead and over 100 injured, with many still fighting for their lives. AFP PHOTO / ANTONIO SCORZA (Photo credit should read ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images) ANTONIO SCORZA

SANTA MARIA, Brazil Brazilian police say they've made three arrests and are seeking a fourth person in connection with a nightclub fire that killed more than 230 people.

Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Jr. said at a Monday press conference that the arrests are for investigative purposes. He says the detentions have five-day limits.

He declined to identify those arrested or the fourth person sought.

More than 230 people died early Sunday during the fire at a university party in southern Brazil.

The Zero Hora newspaper quotes lawyer Jader Marques as saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, was arrested. The paper also says two band members were arrested.

Police have said they think a band's pyrotechnics show ignited sound insulation on the ceiling, causing the blaze.

The bodies of the young college students were found piled up just inside the entrance of the Kiss nightclub, among at least 233 people who died in a cloud of toxic smoke after a blaze enveloped the crowded locale within seconds and set off a panic.

Hours later, the horrific chaos had transformed into a scene of tragic order, with row upon row of polished caskets of the dead lined up in the community gymnasium in the university city of Santa Maria.

Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors.

The gathering was a party organized by students from several academic departments from the Federal University of Santa Maria. Such organized university parties are common throughout Brazil.

In a statement, the university said that at least 101 of the 229 fatalities identified so far were students.

Neri Paniss, a professor at the university, said that a large majority of the victims were the school's alumni. "It's not just now, at this moment of loss that they will be missed, but each day," Paniss said.

Family members of those killed walked around the gym in a daze Sunday evening, shuffling between caskets or holding one another and weeping as they identified loved ones and tried to make sense of what had happened.

Elaine Marques Goncalves lost her son Deivis in the fire. Another son who attended the college party at the nightclub, Gustavo, was barely alive after suffering two cardiac arrests caused by smoke inhalation.

She learned of the blaze after the mother of her sons' friends called her early Sunday.

"My boys were not home and I had no news. I turned on the TV — the tragedy was all over the television," she said at the makeshift morgue. "All I knew was they had gone to a club, I didn't know which one. I kept saying: 'Where do I start? Where do I go?'"

The first funerals for victims were held Monday.

Relatives and friends carry the coffins of two brothers, Pedro and Marcelo Salla, who died in the Kiss nightclub fire, as they prepare for their burial in Santa Maria, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.
AP Photo/Felipe Dana

As the city in southern Brazil prepared to bury the 233 people killed in the conflagration caused by a band's pyrotechnic display, an early investigation into the tragedy revealed that security guards briefly prevented partygoers from leaving through the sole exit, and the bodies later heaped inside that doorway slowed firefighters trying to get in.

"It was terrible inside — it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled atop one another," said police inspector Sandro Meinerz. "We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away."

Survivors and another police inspector, Marcelo Arigony, said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.

"It was chaotic and it doesn't seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died," he told The Associated Press.

Later, firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble entering the club because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance," Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city's fire department, told the O Globo newspaper.

Flowers are placed at the doors of the Kiss nightclub, after a fire ripped through the premises, January 27, 2013 in Santa Maria, Brazil.
JEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images

Police inspectors said they think the source of the blaze was a band's small pyrotechnics show. The fire broke out sometime before 3 a.m. Sunday and the fast-moving fire and toxic smoke created by burning foam sound insulation material on the ceiling engulfed the club within seconds.

Authorities said band members who were on the stage when the fire broke out later talked with police and confirmed they used pyrotechnics during their show.

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