Medvedev demands tightening of fire codes
At least 107 dead, 130 injured in deadly club blaze
PERM, Russia - President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday demanded that Russia tighten its notoriously lax fire codes after the deadliest blaze since the Soviet era killed at least 107 people celebrating in a nightclub with a decorative twig ceiling and just one exit.
About 130 people were injured, dozens critically, when onstage fireworks set the ceiling of the Lame Horse nightclub ablaze soon after midnight, witnesses and officials said.
Many victims were trapped in a panicked crush for the exit as they attempted to escape the flames and thick smoke.
The scene recalled The Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people in West Warwick, R.I., in 2003, which started when pyrotechnics used by the rock band Great White ignited soundproofing foam on the walls and ceiling.
Officials said the managers of the Russian club had ignored repeated demands from authorities to change the interior to comply with fire safety standards. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told Medvedev by videoconference from Perm that the club managers violated the law by running the fireworks display that triggered the fire.
He said the club managers had been fined twice in the past for breaking fire safety regulations, which he did not specify.
Russian clubs and restaurants often cover ceilings with plastic insulation and a layer of willow twigs to create a rustic look, one of many uses of combustible materials in buildings by businessmen who bribe officials to look the other way.
The Lame Horse’s managers had been scheduled before the fire to report tomorrow on their progress fixing the flaws.
“They have neither brains, nor conscience,’’ Medvedev said. “They must face the maximum punishment.’’ He declared a national day of mourning tomorrow.
Authorities quickly arrested two registered co-owners of the club, its managing director, and two other suspects. One other suspect was injured in the fire and remains in critical condition.
Medvedev demanded that lawmakers draft changes to toughen the criminal punishment for failing to comply with fire safety standards.
Enforcement of fire safety standards is infamously poor in Russia and there have been several catastrophic blazes at drug treatment facilities, nursing homes, apartment buildings and nightclubs in recent years. The nation records up to 18,000 fire deaths a year, several times the per capita rate in the United States.
Gennady Gudkov, a senior member of the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament, said that toughening criminal punishment won’t solve the problem. He told the ITAR-Tass news agency that many fire safety officials are corrupt and often turn a blind eye to violations in return for bribes.
Officials said nearly 90 of the more than 130 people injured in the fire had severe burns and scores remained in critical condition. Many of the injured were flown to top emergency hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Emergency Situations Ministry officials called the fire the worst in the nation’s post-Soviet history. The previous most deadly blaze killed 63 people at a nursing home in southern Russia in March 2007.
Video recorded by a clubgoer and shown on Russian television showed partygoers dancing before sparks from pyrotechnic fountains on stage ignited the club’s ceiling around midnight. The footage showed the fire spreading through what appeared to be willow twigs as a host shouted without urgency: “Ladies and gentlemen, guests of the club, we are on fire. Please leave the hall.’’
Firefighters were on the scene in downtown Perm one minute after the alarm was called in.