Santa Maria

Santa Maria victims funeral, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

Santa Maria buries victims of the Kiss nightclub blaze, photo by Wilson Dias/ABr.

A fire that claimed the lives of 235 people in a nightclub in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul state in Southern Brazil, has sparked an investigation into whether fire prevention regulations under Brazil’s health and safety laws are fit for purpose, and whether local authorities are complying with existing legislation.

Marco Maia, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies (PT), has said he will order a review of all existing safety legislation for venues, including nightclubs, and although he acknowledged that the issue was a matter for municipal authorities, he hinted federal legislation could be established.

“My aim is to look at all existing legislation and suggest that there be Brazil-wide legislation with minimal safety requirements that should be adhered to by all the states and municipalities,” Agência Brasil reported Maia as saying.

Operating licences, issued by local fire departments, are obligatory for a range of venues, including theatres, cinemas, clubs, bars, restaurants, gyms and religious buildings. In the aftermath of the incident in Santa Maria, it was revealed that the club’s operating licence had expired in August 2012, although the owner has since told police that he had already started applying for a new one.

Many questions have yet to be answered, but the repercussions are already being felt nationwide: a number of cities have ordered that all nightclubs be urgently re-inspected, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Brasília. Fire authorities in Rio de Janeiro have said they will step up checks and hunt down those without licences.

Wengrover Carlos Rosa, coordinator of the Brazilian Committee on Fire Prevention and Safety, told G1 News that nightclubs must have clearly signed emergency exits, fire extinguishers and emergency lighting, and have their license on display.

“Smoke extraction systems and fire alarms are already mandatory in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and could have contributed to the safety of the [Kiss] nightclub.”

The blaze, which started after a flare set light to sound-proofing material on the club’s ceiling, was the second deadliest in Brazil’s history. Some 503 people died in a fire at the Great North American Circus in Niterói in 1961.

Read my full article on The Rio Times website.