Montreal, QB Nightclub Fire, Sept 1972
NIGHTCLUB FIRE TAKES 42 LIVES IN MONTREAL.
POLICE HOLDING 4 MEN.
Montreal -- Police say that three young men who were angry after being turned away from a crowded downtown nightclub Friday night may have started a fire which killed 42 people in the bar.
Flames engulfed the Blue Bird Cafe, crowded with more than 200 patrons listening to live country and western music shortly after a "ball of fire" exploded in the main entrance of the second storey club.
"It was either a Molotov cocktail or gasoline spread on the stairs and then ignited," Montreal Police Inspector Armand Chaille told the Free Press early today.
Four young men are being held at police headquarters following the fire disaster, the worst in Montreal since 1927, when 77 people perished in a theatre blaze.
"We've got witnesses who saw the way the fire started, and I expect, right now, that we will be able to tell the newspapers within 48 hours exactly how the tragedy occurred," said Insp. Chaille.
He said four men were turned away from the club shortly before the fire started about 10 p.m. EDT.
Most of the victims who died in the smoke and panic were huddled and crushed in corners of the second-storey bar. "There was lots of pitch black smoke and then a lot of heat and a lot of yellow light ... We knew it was a fire. Everyone began to panic," said George Lancia, a survivor.
When the main staircase was englufed in flames, patrons rushed to an emergency exit. "There were so many people on the fire escape that the railing broke," said Mr. Lancia.
Many survivors escaped the disaster scene by jumping from windows to the street below. One police officer said the whole place was in flames in about two or three minutes.
Mr. and Mrs. James Robson said they were waiting to get into the upper bar, located over a ground floor cocktail lounge, when they spotted a ball of fire behind them and a man running down the stairs.
"We tried to run after the man, but there was a wall of fire that kept us from following," Mrs. Robson said. She said they scrambled down the fire escape and "when we got outside the flames had spread so fast they had trapped I don't know how many girls in the women's washroom."
Three bodies were found in one of the washrooms and another 15 of the dead were found huddled in a corner that had no exit according to police. Another 24 were jammed in a rear section of the club near the bar and close to a back entrance.
Sam Dugay, 23, said he was standing talking to the Blue Bird dorman when "a big column of black smoke and flames shot up the stairway."
George Lancia, who was in the club, said "everyone began to panic."
"There was lots of pitch black smoke, then a lot of heat and then a lot of yellow light ... We knew it was a fire and everyone began to panic."
"There were so many people on the fire escape that the railing broke. People were falling from the sky almost."
"I tried to help people come out of the front windows, but they just panicked and were falling out."
One 20-year-old woman said the fire went through the whole building in no time at all.
"People were screaming, falling, being stepped on. By the time I got out the whole building was burning and there were still people inside."
One witness said three men apparently had been thrown out of the club shortly before the explosion.
Police said the fire bombs were thrown into a stairwell at the front of the building which links the two club levels.
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