West Warwick, RI Terrible Nightclub Fire, Feb 2003
NIGHTCLUB FIRE KILLS 96.
PYROTECHNICS DISPLAY BY BAND BLAMED FOR BLAZE.
West Warwick, R.I. (AP) - Great White was rocking through its first song, "Desert Moon," and the fans were cheering as fireworks sprayed the stage with sparks. They kept cheering even as flames shot toward the ceiling. Within three minutes, many of them were dead.
At least 96 people died in The Station nightclub on Thursday night, burned or crushed in their frantic fight to escape the old wooden building. Nearly 200 more were injured, 35 critically.
Club officials said they had not given the band permission to use pyrotechnics, a claim echoed by at least three other venues where Great White played in the past month. The band disputed the accusations, and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said authorities were investigating.
Many concert-goers were caught off guard as they slowly realized the fire wasn't part of the show. Many were badly burned and others were trampled in the rush to escape, in large part through a single door.
"I never know a place could burn so fast," said Robin Petrarca, 44, who was roughed up in the scramble to escape. She said the smoke was so thick she couldn't see an exit just 5 feet away.
It was the deadliest U.S. nightclub fire since 165 people were killed at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Ky., in 1977. It also came less than a week after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightspot.
The capacity of The Station was 300, but the number of victims and survivors indicated more were inside. The death toll rose steadily Friday as firefighters picked through the smoking ruins of the single story building.
"This building went up fast - nobody had a chance," said Gov. Don Cacien, who rushed back to the state from a trip to Florida.
Under the glare of floodlights, a dozen firefighters and other law enforcement officials used rakes to sift through the rubble Friday night as the searched for evidence and belongings of the victims. A corner of the building was still standing, along with the marquee, still advertising Great White's appearance.
Late Friday, the governor said seven of the dead had not been identified. No names were released.
At hospitals around the region anguished relatives pleaded for help in finding loved ones they feared were lost in the club.
Patricia Belanger stood trembling outside Rhode Island Hospital, clutching a photo of her daughter, Dina DeMaio, who was working at the club as a waitress to earn some extra money for herself and her 7-year-old son.
Belanger said she had not been able to find her daughter and was unable to tell her grandson about his mother's possible death.
"He knows his mother didn't come back," she said.