- Associated Press - Monday, January 28, 2013

SANTA MARIA, Brazil (AP) — There was no fire alarm. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. And when a band member tried to put out a fire that had been started by pyrotechnics, the extinguisher didn’t work.

All the elements were in place for the tragedy at the Kiss nightclub early Sunday. The result was the world’s worst fire of its kind in more than a decade, with 231 people dead and this southern Brazilian city in shock and mourning.

Funerals began on Monday, as reports continued to emerge about the accumulation of neglect and errors at the packed nightspot.

Brazilian police said they had detained three people in connection with the blaze, while the newspaper O Globo said on its website that a fourth person had surrendered to police. Police Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior said the detentions were part of the ongoing police probe and those detained can be held for up to five days.

Inspector Vieira declined to identify those detained, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora quotes lawyer Jader Marques as saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held.

The paper said police also detained two members of the band that was performing when the blaze broke out in this university town of about 260,000 people. The band’s guitarist told Brazilian media he saw flames lick the ceiling after the group’s spark machine was deployed.

More than 100 people remained hospitalized for smoke, local officials said. Dr. Paulo Afonso Beltrame, who helped coordinate the emergency response, said he was optimistic that those injured would pull through.

“It’s impossible to predict what will happen, because they are all in a very delicate state, but there’s hope for all of them,” said Dr. Beltrame, adding that more than 40 survivors had been sent to neighboring cities for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation. “One of the problems we’re having here is that all these people need to be on respirators and we don’t have enough respirators in the city.”

Funeral services were held for several of the 231 victims, most of them college students 18 to 21 years old. Some of the victims were minors. Most died from smoke inhalation rather than burns.

Initial reports suggested the fire and ensuing deaths were the result of a series of failures. Police have said they think the pyrotechnics ignited flammable sound insulation on the ceiling.

Other witnesses said security guards who didn’t know about the blaze initially blocked people from leaving without paying their bills. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they’re allowed to leave. Many of the dead were found in the club’s two bathrooms, where the blinding smoke caused them to believe the doors were exits.

Rodrigo Martins, a guitarist for the group Gurizada Fandangueira, told Globo TV network in an interview Monday that the flames broke out minutes after the deployment of a pyrotechnic machine that fans out colored sparks, at around 2:30 a.m. local time (11:30 p.m. EST Saturday).

“I felt that something was falling from the roof, and I looked up and I saw the fire was spreading, and I shouted, ‘Look, it’s catching on fire, man, it’s catching fire,’” Mr. Martins said. “Then the drummer tried to throw water on it, and it looked like the fire spread more then. Then the security guards came with an extinguisher, tried to use it, but it didn’t work.”

He added that the club was packed and estimated the crowd at about 1,200 to 1,300 people.

“I thought I was going to die there. There was nothing I could do, with the fire spreading and people screaming in front.”

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