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65 killed in Rhode Island nightclub fire

West Warwick (Rhode Island), Feb. 21 (Reuters): At least 65 people died and more than 160 others were injured in a fire that swept through a Rhode Island nightclub after a rock band’s pyrotechnics display, authorities said today.

Officials told reporters some 200 people had been in the Station nightclub at a concert by heavy metal band Great White when the blaze started on Thursday night, and they feared the death toll would climb further.

“Now it’s at 65 and there’s more. How many more' We don’t know,” said West Warwick Town Manager Wolfgang Bauer. “I would not be surprised if the total jumped another 10 to 15 people.”

Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri said he did not recall a disaster of greater magnitude in the state’s history, and said the investigation was focusing on the use of pyrotechnics in the small wooden building that was not required by law to have a water sprinkler system.

“There was no business putting off pyrotechnics in that building. This didn’t need to happen — it shouldn’t have happened,” Carcieri told reporters after he cut short a trip to Florida to survey the damage.

“This is a real disaster. This building went up so fast. Nobody had a chance from what the building looks like,” the governor said. The disaster hit hard in Rhode Island, a tight-knit state with just over one million inhabitants.

“They say that in the world there’s six degrees of separation. In Rhode Island, it’s more like one-and-a-half degrees,” said Rhode Island attorney Gen. Patrick Lynch.

The Rhode Island blaze occurred just days after 21 people were killed in a stampede at a Chicago nightclub when they tried to escape pepper spray used to break up a fight and were crushed behind blocked doors, officials said.

Witnesses said a flash fire erupted about 0400 GMT today at the club, about 24 km southwest of Providence, the state’s capital, during a pyrotechnics display at the start of the concert. Several witnesses said the pyrotechnics had ignited a foam backing on a wall near the stage.

“It was like a big sparkler that set off the foam. Within 30 seconds it was 3 metres tall,” said Jack Rezendes of Jamestown, Rhode Island, an audience member who escaped by climbing through a window. “I saw everyone going to one spot to get out and I went around and broke out a window and climbed through it.”

Hall said the club had no license for pyrotechnic displays. He said there were no sprinklers in the building, but it was too small to require them.

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