MURCIA, Spain: A Spanish nightclub that was ravaged by fire over the weekend, killing 13 people, had been ordered to shut in 2022, authorities said on Monday, as an investigation began into the cause of the tragedy.
The blaze - which broke out early on Sunday in a building housing the Fonda Milagros and Theatre discos on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Murcia - is Spain’s deadliest nightclub fire in over three decades.
Murcia city council had in January 2022 ordered the closure of the nightclubs because the company that operated them only had a licence for one venue - the Teatre - and not for Fonda, which was created later, deputy mayor Antonio Navarro told a news conference.
Navarro said the authorities would get to the bottom of who was responsible, without explaining why the discos were still operating.
Firefighters on Monday combed through the wreckage of the nightclub complex, which was cordoned off with police tape marked “do not cross”.
Police suspect the fire broke out in the Fonda nightclub and then spread - as patrons raced to escape - to the Teatre and to a third nightclub in the building called the Golden.
“The fatalities were all concentrated in a very small area in the Fonda establishment,” police spokesman Diego Seral said, adding that a birthday party was being held there at the time.
Video footage released by the Murcia fire brigade shows the firefighters carrying a long hose approaching fierce flames inside the venue, passing bar tables that still had drinks on them.
‘We’re going to die’
The fire appears to have spread through the air conditioning vents “which is why it spread so quickly”, said the central government’s representative in Murcia, Francisco Jimenez.
All the people who were reported missing after the fire have been accounted for, including three people who were at a beach and had their mobile phones turned off, and officials said they did not expect to find any more bodies.
The dead included people from Colombia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, as well as Spain.
A man named Jairo, who said he was the father of one of the victims, told reporters his 28-year-old daughter had been inside one of the clubs.
He had had no news of her since she left a desperate voice mail message at 6:06 am.
“Mum, I love you. We’re going to die. I love you mum,” a young woman’s voice could be heard crying on the recording, while in the background people shouted for someone to turn on the lights.
Police said three of the victims had been identified by their fingerprints.
The rest of the bodies will have to be identified using DNA samples from close relatives.
“We must be patient with the identification of the bodies... The bodies are very badly burned and it is going to be very difficult for experts to work on them,” Jimenez added.
Officials said four people - two women aged 22 and 25 years old and two men in their forties - were treated for smoke inhalation.
The city’s bars and restaurants closed on Sunday as a mark of respect for the victims, local hotel-restaurant association Hoytu said.
Murcia city hall announced three days of mourning and a minute of silence was observed at noon on Monday for the victims.
“We are devastated, shocked,” the head of the Murcia regional government, Fernando Lopez Miras, said after meeting family members of the victims.
“There is nothing we can say to console relatives and friends of the victims. You are left without words,” he added.
This is the worst nightclub fire since 43 people died in 1990 at a blaze at a disco in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.
Spain’s deadliest nightclub fire occurred in December 1983, when 81 people were killed in a blaze in Madrid. Smoke, a failure in the lighting system and a closed emergency door all contributed to the disaster.