Fire prompts club inspections

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iol news pic Brazil nightclub aftermath REUTERS Soccer fans of Brazil's Gremio hold a banner that reads "Help Santa Maria", in support of victims from the fire at the Boate Kiss nightclub before the Copa Libertadores soccer match against Ecuador's LDU Quito in Porto Alegre January 30, 2013. A fire at a nightclub in the university town of Santa Maria killed at least 235 people in Santa Maria on January 27, when a band's pyrotechnics show set the building ablaze and fleeing partygoers stampeded toward blocked and overcrowded exits in the ensuing panic, officials said. REUTERS/Edison Vara

Santa Maria, Brazil - Brazilian authorities inspected and shuttered night spots around the country on Thursday as part of a crackdown on unsafe public spaces after a deadly nightclub fire left 235 people dead and shocked the nation.

The action comes just a week before annual Carnival celebrations start across the country, filling streets and venues with revelers.

Inspectors in the Amazon city of Manaus have ordered the temporary closure of some 58 bars, nightclubs and other public buildings there, the city's Em Tempo newspaper reported. Owners of the affected night spots staged a protest Thursday outside City Hall to denounce what they said were arbitrary closures, the newspaper said.

It added that fire code irregularities have been found even inside Manaus City Hall, including faulty emergency lighting and nonfunctional fire extinguishers.

In Rio de Janeiro, officials said they were studying the possible closure of some of the dozens of cultural centers operated by state and local governments, including theaters, libraries and museums said to be operating with expired licenses. Nine out of 10

municipal theaters in Rio have expired fire inspection certificates, the O Globo daily reported on Thursday. It also said two nightclubs in the Rio neighborhood of Barra de Tijuca have been closed.

The legal status of the Kiss nightclub in the southern Brazilian city of Santa Maria has come under intense scrutiny since Sunday's blaze, with firefighters and top officials insisting they had carried out inspections in accordance with the law. But the police inspector leading the investigation of the tragedy has said the club was so blatantly hazardous that “any child” could have seen it should not have been operating.

Police have said the blaze likely started when a band performing at the club lit a flare, which ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling. That initial error was compounded by the near-total lack of emergency infrastructure such as a fire alarms or sprinkler systems, police have said. The club also had only one working door and a faulty fire extinguisher.

Kiss' co-owners and two members of the band performing when the fire started were detained earlier this week and are being held for five days as part of the police probe.

Jader Marques, an attorney representing one of the co-owners, insisted his “client's responsibility is having trusted too much in the inspectors and in those responsible for the construction.”

“Hindsight is 20-20,” he said, while saying public officials had signed off on the club.

Marques denied reports that overcrowding helped compound Sunday's tragedy, insisting there were only 600 to 700 people in the club at any one time. Capacity for the 615-square-meter (6,650-square-foot) nightspot stood at less than 700, though the band's guitarist told media that the space was packed with an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 people. Police have given the same estimate.

Marques insisted that any higher tallies of people at the club that night were due to club-goers cycling in and out.

Since the tragedy, victim families and local townspeople have repeatedly called for those responsible to be punished. On Wednesday, a young tagger sprayed oversized white graffiti reading “justice for all” on the facade of the club as onlookers cheered and police watched from below, Brazilian media reported. He then escaped over neighboring roofs, the reports said.

More than 100 people remain hospitalized, dozens of them in critical condition. - Sapa-AP

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