KUWAIT CITY — A fire that tore through a wedding tent outside Kuwait’s capital killed 41 women and children in just three minutes, leaving behind shoes melted to the ground and bodies so blackened they were unrecognizable, the fire chief said Sunday.
Guests likely crushed one another in a desperate attempt to flee through the only exit, he said.
The devastating fire was likely to result in restrictions on the tradition of holding celebrations in such tents, a custom which is rooted in Kuwait’s nomadic heritage and endures in tribal areas of the country.
Saturday night’s blaze in al-Jahra, west of Kuwait City, was the deadliest the country’s fire department chief has seen in four decades of service, he said.
“It was a horrific scene, with bodies and many shoes stuck to the ground at the only exit. They must have trampled over one another,” Brig. Gen. Jassem al-Mansouri said.
Authorities were using DNA tests to identify the 35 women and six children killed.
The cause is still being investigated. Possibilities include faulty electrical wiring, a problem with the equipment used to warm the food buffet or the coals used for burning incense, Gen. al-Mansouri said.
Gen. Al-Mansouri expected tighter restrictions on the use of such tents.
“There will certainly be a decision to ban the use of tents without written permission,” he said. That would ensure that authorities are aware of events and able to check tents for safety features, he said.
The Interior Ministry also asked that tents not be set up close to houses and that children not be taken to these parties.
Kuwaitis hold separate wedding parties for men and women. Men gather for dinner, while women and children sing and dance. In the absence of men, women shed their head coverings and wear revealing evening gowns.
At the end of the celebration, the groom comes to the women’s party to collect his bride. Women are given a warning and they cover up in their black head-to-toe abayas before he enters. No alcohol is served, as it is forbidden in Islam.
In wealthier urban areas, such parties take place in five-star hotels or special halls.
The fire left behind blackened mounds of chairs and tables burned down to their metal frames, as well as food trays and charred air conditioners.
Fifty-eight wounded people remained in hospitals, seven of them in serious condition with severe burns. It was not clear whether the bride survived the inferno.
Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, has ordered that no expense be spared to treat the survivors and provide comfort to their relatives.
Out of sympathy, he will not be receiving well-wishers as he traditionally does for the advent of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts Aug. 22.