The Granddaddy of all horrible club fires occurred in Boston at the Coconut Grove in 1942, killing 492 people. The fire was started by someone simply lighting a match in order to screw in a lightbulb. Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation, though locked exits were a factor. If such a tragedy can be caused by a match, how could anyone even dream of pyrotechnics? I have always been opposed to them, and still am to this day. Though fire-eating can be safer and more easily contained, it still makes me nervous.
In addition, the reason the fire spread so rapidly at the Coconut Grove is because much of the decor was not fireproof, which is why club promoters should definitely think twice about hanging flammable fabrics, plastics and reams of paper. Even if something doesn't seem like it would burn, it can set off clouds of toxic smoke, making escape impossible.
"According to Newsweek (12/7/42), the fire began shortly after 10pm. Panic set in as a girl, her hair ablaze, ran from the Melody Lounge in the basement where the fire had begun, screaming 'Fire!' Flames flashed with incredible swiftness through the imitation palm trees and flimsy decorations. Smoke swirled in choking masses through hallways. Blazing draperies fell, setting clothes and hair on fire. Patrons were huddled under tables and trampled to death. Others tripped and blocked the six foot wide stairway up from the lounge. An estimated 800-1,000 people were thrown into pure bedlam attempting to get out of the flaming, choking inferno.
Flames moved upstairs to the main bar and dining room within 5 minutes. At the Nov. 30 inquest, Deputy Fire Chief John McDonough testified a side door was equipped with a panic lock which would open under pressure, but it was out of order and the door was secured by another lock. This left only the main revolving door as an escape route. This door quickly became jammed. Nearly 200 people died in heaps behind this revolving door. Fire Commissioner William Reilly later said the leather covered walls of the club had been treated with a fire resistant compound which kept them from bursting into flame but caused them to give off dense clouds of thick choking smoke. City building commissioner James Mooney said the dead and injured were piled in heaps. To him it was evident a terrific fight had taken place in the panicking darkness, "Many of the bodies were actually torn apart."
The recent tragedy saddens me. It shouldn't have happened.