The Station Nightclub Fire – 2003

When it was announced that the 1980s rock act Great White would be headlining an evening of retro rock music at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, their small but loyal following turned out in force. The warm-up acts went down well and, by the time Great White took the stage, shortly after 23.00, spirits were high. The band started with their traditional opening song ‘Desert Moon’, accompanied by a pyrotechnic display laid on by the group’s manager.

The band had scarcely got going when the fireworks sent a spray of sparks up into the sound-proofing foam above the stage. The foam quickly ignited, surrounding the band with flames. Most of the audience thought this was all part of the act and just carried on enjoying the show. The fire quickly engulfed the whole ceiling, sending billows of black smoke across the arena, at which point the lead singer shouted ‘this ain’t good’ and the band headed for an exit behind the stage. Soon all anyone could hear was the penetrating squeal of the club’s fire alarm system. Despite the fact that the club had four functioning exits, in their haste to get out most of the audience chose to leave through the narrow hallway through which they had arrived. The passage soon filled up and became impassable, leading those in the club to push even harder as the fire sucked the oxygen from the room. One hundred lost their lives in the stampede, either through being trampled or as a result of smoke inhalation and severe burns. Only around one quarter of the 470 present escaped unharmed.

The fire had a huge impact on the local community. Scores of children lost their parents, the band lost their lead guitarist, Ty Longley, and lawsuits totaling $180 million were initiated.

When was the The Station Nightclub Fire: February 20 2003

Where was the The Station Nightclub Fire: West Warwick, Rhode Island, USA

What was the The Station Nightclub Fire death toll: 100

You should know: The fire was caught on film by cameraman Brian Butler, who was on the scene to do a piece for a local television station about safety in nightclubs. Two main lessons can be learnt from this and numerous other similar tragedies: indoor pyrotechnics are a bad idea and you should always check out the fire escapes when attending a crowded venue.


Lagos Armory Explosion – 2002

Nigeria is a country split by religion and factionalism. It is home to Christians and Muslims in equal number and even within these groupings there are innumerable tribal subdivisions. Fighting in the north continues and the riches gained from large oil reserves do not trickle down to the majority of the population. Above all it is a country held together by a powerful military, who can more often than not do as they please. It is also a place that seems cursed by bad luck – if something can go wrong it invariably will.

When, in 2001, the government asked the army to decommission a large munitions warehouse located in the densely populated northern district of the capital, Lagos, the generals ignored the request. They wanted their armaments to be easily accessible and hang the risk. On a January evening in 2002, a fire broke out in a market adjacent to the warehouse. This sparked a cataclysmic sequence of events.

At around 18.00 the fire spread to the armory and despite frantic attempts to control it, little could be done. A series of small blasts preceded several huge explosions as the whole store spewed out its ordnance like an erupting volcano. Buildings for several miles around were shaken to their foundations, with many collapsing and crushing the people inside. Many fled in panic as shells, grenades and bullets rained down on them. Hundreds died in the crush. In the confusion, many sought refuge in a neighboring banana plantation, little knowing that their path was blocked by an overgrown, but deep, canal. As darkness fell, more and more people plunged through the vegetation to their deaths, pushed by a confused crowd fleeing the mayhem.

When was the Lagos Armory Explosion: January 27 2002

Where was the Lagos Armory Explosion: Lagos, Nigeria

What was the Lagos Armory Explosion death toll: Around 1,500 killed, thousands more injured and tens of thousands left homeless.

You should know: The explosions caused such widespread damage to the area’s infrastructure that it took years to recover. Many people who lost loved ones suffered the double tragedy of homelessness and extreme poverty.


Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire – 2000

One moment the neighborhood of Roombeek in the eastern Dutch city of Enschede was there, the next it was gone. Some 400 houses were destroyed and 15 streets obliterated within a 40 hectare (100 acre) area, with damage caused by a massive explosion rippling outwards to engulf a further 1,500 houses.

Nearly 1,000 people were injured, many seriously, and 22 had been killed.

Around 10,000 residents were subsequently evacuated and the final damage bill exceeded 450 million euros.

The culprit was a disastrous conflagration at the SE Fireworks facility. The company imported large quantities of fireworks from China for pyrotechnic displays at major events and boasted a good safety record. The premises had been inspected just one week before the accident, confirming the fact that relevant official regulations were being complied with. This made the subsequent catastrophe all the more puzzling, and the precise cause has never been determined.

What is known is that the chain of events leading to this huge detonation began with a fire in the central building, where a considerable quantity of fireworks was kept – either set by an arsonist or sparked by an electrical short-circuit. This ignited the stored fireworks and initiated a chain reaction. Next, two container-loads of fireworks – illegally stored outside the building – went up. Finally, the main bunker containing 177 tons of fireworks exploded in a massive fireball, sending a dense cloud of black smoke skywards.

This was an outcome that shouldn’t have been possible, as the warehouse had been carefully designed to isolate firework stores from any possible source of accidental ignition. It was suspected – but never proved – that internal safety doors had been left open by careless staff. After the event, two SE Fireworks managers were convicted of criminal negligence and received short prison sentences. The Roombeek area was rebuilt.

When was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire: May 13 2000

Where was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire: Enschede, Netherlands

What was the Enschede Fireworks Warehouse Fire death toll: 22 dead and 947 injured

You should know: The Eurovision Song Contest 2000 was taking place on May 13 and telephone voting in the Netherlands was suspended in the aftermath of the explosion, both as a mark of respect for presumed victims and to free up the communications networks for urgent use by emergency services.


Gothenburg Discotheque Fire – 1998

The disco held in a Macedonian community center in Gothenburg was intended to provide some Halloween fun for the youth of the city’s immigrant communities. However, this innocent evening of music and dancing turned into a nightmare as fire engulfed the premises, leaving over half the attendees dead or injured.

The center’s upstairs dance hall was licensed to hold 150 people, but there was little chance of stopping the revelers piling in and as many as 400 were present by 23.00. Shortly after 23.30 the smell of smoke began to drift over the dance floor, but most of the partygoers thought this was coming from a smoke machine. Then a DJ noticed flames and issued a warning to the crowd, but this too was dismissed by many as a prank. The large group of young adults were there to party and little could distract them. By the time the fire took hold on one of only two stairwells that could facilitate their escape, it was too late. The noise was so great that, when a call was finally made to the emergency services, the operator had difficulty in hearing the address. That said, once called, the fire brigade arrived on the scene quickly and were well prepared. The firefighters were greeted by a panic-stricken scene – people were hurling themselves out of windows and rushing to escape out of one narrow doorway.

For some time the authorities refused to disclose what many had suspected – that the fire was the result of arson. Rumor was rife and some in the immigrant community pointed the finger of blame at Swedish Neo-Nazis. Tensions ran high, until four young Iranians were found to have started the blaze in an idiotic and deadly game of dare.

When was the Gothenburg Discotheque Fire: October 29 1998

Where was the Gothenburg Discotheque Fire: Hisingen Island, Gothenburg, Sweden

What was the Gothenburg Discotheque Fire death toll: 63 dead and more than 200 injured.

You should know: ln the days after the arson attack, leaflets began to appear calling for revenge against the perceived Swedish perpetrators. One particularly unsavory handout called for 60 Swedes to be killed to avenge the loss. Physical and emotional scars have taken time to heal. A beautifully crafted granite and gold memorial was unveiled ten years after the tragedy.


Kader Doll Factory Fire – 1993

In 1993, Thailand’s worst-ever industrial disaster killed more than 180 workers in a catastrophic conflagration. Indeed, although it received little publicity outside Thailand, the Kader Doll Factory fire is the worst industrial factory fire ever recorded, claiming a greater number of victims than the infamous and well-publicized Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that took place in New York back in 1911.

The Kader Doll Factory manufactured plastic dolls and stuffed toys, mostly branded items for big American corporations like Mattel and Disney. The workforce mainly consisted of young women from rural families who toiled in a badly designed E-shaped multi-story production facility, built to poor standards. Despite fire exits being shown on original construction plans, these were not actually included in the finished building. Furthermore, it was usual practice to keep the exit doors that were there locked during working hours.

It was a recipe for disaster, which duly unfolded on a May afternoon after a small fire started in a first-floor area of Building One, used to store finished goods. This was thought to be so insignificant by management that the fire alarm wasn’t sounded and workers were instructed to remain at their posts. But the fire spread with frightening speed, not only within their section but also to flammable raw materials elsewhere in the factory.

As workers in Building One scrambled to escape, they found ground-floor exit doors locked. The building’s skeleton consisted of unprotected steel girders that soon buckled and twisted in the intense heat, making the staircase unusable. As terrified workers jumped from upper floors the building collapsed, just as firefighting teams arrived on site.

Nearly 190 workers died in the blaze, or subsequently from burns and smoke inhalation, while 500 were injured. The other buildings were evacuated without loss of life.

When was the Kader Doll Factory Fire: May 10 1993

Where was the Kader Doll Factory Fire: Sam Phran, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand

What was the Kader Doll Factory Fire death toll: 188

You should know: Despite agonized public utterances by Thai politicians after this horrifying disaster, and solemn promises of a review of industrial safety standards and proper enforcement of those that did exist, little changed. As is so often the case, the imperative to sustain economic growth at any price ensured that bold promises to shut down every Thai factory without adequate fire safety systems were quietly forgotten once the Kader Doll Factory fire faded from the headlines.


King’s Cross Fire – 1987

A major interchange on the London Underground system is King’s Cross St Pancras, a station complex that serves both over ground lines and the Tube. There are in effect two Tube stations, the shallow one for the Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City Lines plus a deep-level station for the Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines. One Wednesday in November 1987 the escalator shaft serving the Piccadilly line was busy with early evening travelers when a small fire broke out at about 19.30.

The 50-year-old elevators were partially constructed from wood, and a carelessly dropped lit match fell down the side of the moving staircase, igniting the oily running mechanism below. Minor escalator fires were not uncommon, and the potential severity of this one was not initially appreciated. Emergency services were in attendance and an orderly evacuation was under way when a combination of circumstances turned an unfortunate incident into a major tragedy.

Down below, a westbound Tube train departed just as an eastbound train arrived. This created a powerful up-draught through the escalator shaft and this piston effect caused a flashover – the phenomenon where hot gases given off by over-heated combustible materials ignite, consuming everything flammable in a deadly burst of flame and intense heat. A jet of flame roared into the ticket hall, which quickly filled with toxic smoke so that even many of those who escaped the flames were overcome – including fireman Colin Townsley, who died from smoke inhalation after trying to rescue a woman in difficulties. He was one of over 30 victims of the fire, which burned until the early hours of the following morning. As a result of the King’s Cross fire, the partial ban on smoking first introduced in 1984 was rigorously enforced throughout the Tube network and almost all London Underground’s ageing wooden escalators were replaced by new all-steel versions.

When was the King’s Cross Fire: November 18 1987

Where was the King’s Cross Fire: London, UK

What was the King’s Cross Fire death toll: 31 died and over 60 were injured (suffering various degrees of burns and smoke inhalation).

You should know: One male victim of the fire was not identified and became known as ‘Body 115’ after his mortuary tag. The mystery was finally solved with the help of DNA analysis nearly 20 years later, when it was confirmed that he was Alexander Fallon, a 73-year-old from Scotland.