Chapais, QB Fire At Lions Club Party, Jan 1980


Chapais, Quebec (AP) -- A young man was arrested after a fire at a Lions Club New Year's Eve party killed at least 42 revelers. "It is definitely a criminal matter," police said.
The 21-year-old was toying with a cigarette lighter near Christmas decorations that burst into flames near the club's entrance, survivors told investigators.
Constable RENE FORTIN of the Chapais municipal police told reporters he did not know when the charges would be lodged. The suspect was not immediately identified.
Police said many of the bodies were stacked against a rear door of the club, the Opemiska, and that 50 other partygoers suffered serious burns and smoke inhalation as the fire roared through fir branch decorations.
Police said there were approximately 350 persons in the club when the fire broke out about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. Thirty children lost parents in the blaze, and one family lost five relatives.
One of the survivors, NORMAN BEDARD, said when the fire broke out many of the guests continued dancing. Then there was panic, and people fleeing through the blazing front door "were like walking torches as their nylon clothing burned," he said.
Another survivor, LUC MARCEAU, 24, said he saw several men try to put out the fire with a portable extinguisher and that when he realized they weren't going to succeed, he fled with his girlfriend.
Outside he tried to help the injured. "I saw a girl on the snow. She had no hair, no clothes on. She called, 'LUC, help me.' I had to ask her name because I didn't recognize her. It was somone I had gone to school with."
MARCEAU'S 19-year-old brother GILLES, was trapped inside the club for a while. "The smoke kept dropping down from the ceiling," he said. "I didn't know what to do."
GILLES escaped through a fire exit at the front of the room, but his clothes were on fire. His face was blistered, his hair and beard were badly singed, and his hands, chest and shoulders had to be swathed in bandages.
BERNARD COULOMBE was in the hotel he owns about 100 yards from the club when on of the survivors staggered in, his clothes afire, and cried for help.
"I called the police, then went outside," COULOMBE said. "The flames were spreading quickly, and there were a lot of people trying to get out through one exit door at the back."
He said the man who ran to the hotel "looked like he had been burned alive ... there was not much skin left on his body and his clothes were still on fire."
"When the man stumbled in, somebody started ripping away the burning clothes and I put out the flames with my hands. What skin was left was hanging from his body and all his hair had been burned off, leaving him bald."
One resident said he saw a man throwing people to safety through a window of the club's kitchen, but then the man was trapped by flames and perished.

Waterloo Courier Iowa 1980-01-02