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Top 10 Worst Fires Since 1900

Fire is one of the most destructible forces in nature and can leave devastating effects when it becomes out of control. There are many cases in history where entire cities have been destroyed by fire. Here is our list of the 10 most deadly fires to occur since 1900.

  1. Station Nightclub Fire, Rhode Island, USA. 20th February 2003

The hard rock band Great White were performing at Station Nightclub when a flash fire began. It turns out the band were using pyrotechnic sparks for visual effect which accidentally set the stage props ablaze. The narrow hallway leading to the exit became completely blocked as a crowd of over 400 people rushed to escape. The entire club burned to the ground in six minutes, killing 100 people and injuring 230.

The nightclub did not have a sprinkler system in place which could have saved numerous people. The club owner and the Great White’s manager were both charged with 100 counts of criminal-negligence and manslaughter. They were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

  1. Four Courts Fire & Bombing, Dublin, Ireland. April 1922

The four courts are the location of the Supreme Court, High Court, Central Criminal Court and Dublin Circuit Court. At the time of the fire the Four Courts were occupied by Republican forces led by Rory O’Connor who opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The republican forces became surrounded in the building after the Provisional Government attacked the building to try and remove the rebels. In reaction the rebels set off a bomb and started fires in the hope of destroying the building. The fire destroyed nearly 1000 years of irreplaceable historical archives, along with the whole building.

  1. Windsor Tower, Madrid Spain, 12th February 2005

The Windsor Tower is the financial centre of Madrid. Standing at 106m high with a total of 32 floors, it is the 8th tallest building in Madrid. A fire was detected on the 21st floor which quickly spread, destroying the building.

Some theories suggest the fire was caused by arson. Different videotapes appeared to show two figures moving about inside the building eight floors below the core of the fire more than two hours after it was evacuated. The tower was not equipped with sprinklers which would have helped to reduce the extent of the damage.

  1. Niteroi Circus Fire, Niteroi, Brazil – 15th December 1961

The Gran Circus Norte-Americano were performing in Niteroi when one of the tents caught fire. 323 people were killed as the entire tent became engulfed in the flames. Following an investigation the case was determined to be arson as an unhappy employee lit the tent ablaze.

  1. Cedar Fire, California, USA – October 2003

The Cedar Fire was a wildfire that burned out of control driven by the Southern Californian Santa Ana winds. The fire destroyed 2,820 buildings and killed 15 people. It was started by Sergio Martinez who claimed the fire was started accidentally by a gunshot when he was hunting in the area and became lost. Later he confessed he started the fire to signal rescuers. Mr Martinez was convicted of lying to a federal officer and faced six months in jail.

  1. L’Innovation Department Store Fire, Brussels, Belgium – 22nd May 1967

The department store in Belgium had an exhibit featuring American merchandise which sparked outrage among a pro-China group named “Action for the Peace and Independence of Peoples”. In the time leading up to the fire picketing had taken place outside the store. The fire blocked the stairway which forced people to jump from the windows to safety. The result of the fire was the deaths of 322 people.

The building burnt to the ground in just 10 minutes. Had the department store been equipped with a sprinkler system many more people could have been saved.

  1. Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire, Boston, USA – 28th November 1942

On the night of the fire, the nightclub had a tropical Casablanca style party going on decorated with paper palm trees, cloth draperies covering the ceiling, flammable furniture and other flimsy decorations which were obscuring the exit signs. The club was full of about 1000 people which was over double the official capacity of 460.

Reports state that the fire started when dancer Goody Goodelle removed a light bulb in the corner of the club to give her and her date some privacy. Whilst replacing the bulb Goody dropped it and couldn’t find it so she lit a match which ignited some of the paper palm trees. The fire quickly spread killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more. The clubs owner Barney Welansky, who had links with the mafia, was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Had the exit signs been visible and more precautions had been taken with the decorations more people would have been able to escape safely.

  1. Happy Valley Racecourse Fire, Happy Valley, Hong Kong Island – 26th February 1918

The race course in Hong Kong suffered an enormous fire which killed around 600 people in February 1918. It is unknown what started the fire but many people became trapped as the location of the exits were unclear.

  1. Iroquois Theatre Fire, Chicago, USA – 30th December 1903

A huge blaze occurred at the theatre during a matinee showing of the popular musical Mr Bluebeard. The majority of the 2000 strong audience were women and children. The cause of the fire was an arc light shorting which ignited a muslin curtain. The fire quickly spread killing 602 people in just 20 minutes.

The exits were hard to find as the doors were unmarked and hidden behind curtains. Most of the lobby doors were locked and the balcony stairs were blocked by locked gates. The fire resulted in the development of the first panic exit device by the Von Duprin exit device company.  

  1. The World Trade Centre Fire, New York, USA – 11th September, 2001

On the morning of 9/11 two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Centre.  Fire consumed numerous floors of the buildings. The Twin Towers completely collapsed 56 and 103 minutes after the impacts.  In all 2,974 people died in the attacks.  Studies by the U.S. Government concluded that the heat from the fires melted the infrastructure and caused numerous floors to pancake and collapse upon each other.

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