Report: GREAT WHITE Nightclub Fire Victims Had Little Chance

Ralph Ranalli of the Boston Globe has issued the following report:

Victims of the deadly February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub had virtually no chance of escaping the inferno, as the air temperature inside much of the building reached 1,800 degrees within 90 seconds, according to a report released yesterday by federal fire safety specialists.

The most detailed and comprehensive analysis yet on the tragedy, the report showed in chilling computer simulations how, just 40 seconds after the fire began, tongues of flame and billowing black smoke began overwhelming patrons even at the far end of the club with astonishing speed. The blaze killed 100 people, many of whom perished trying to escape through the front door, and injured 200 others.

"You can understand now the crush of the crowd at the front door, trying to get away any way they could," said William Grosshandler, chief of the Fire Research Division of the US Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, which conduced the study.

But the agency found that if the venue's owners had installed a sprinkler system that met generally accepted standards, the fire would have been mostly suppressed by that same 40-second mark, with little or no loss of life. At the time, the club was not legally required to have sprinklers.

Relatives of those killed in the fire said after the briefing yesterday that the findings show that the club's owners, brothers Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, could have prevented the tragedy.

"It's just horrible to know that they placed people in their establishment in such terrible danger," said Eileen DiBonaventura of North Dighton, whose 18-year-old son, Albert, died in the fire. "This never should have happened."

The federal investigators are now recommending that all nightclubs across the country, regardless of capacity or age, be constructed or retrofitted with sprinklers.

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