Lame Horse Club Fire

Russia was coming to terms last night with its most deadly fire since Soviet times after 109 people died and more than 130 were injured in a blaze at a packed provincial nightclub.

Investigators ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday's fire, but president Dmitry Medvedev said the club owners would face severe punishment and ordered a national day of mourning tomorrow with flags at half-mast. He condemned the managers, who had ignored repeated demands from authorities to change the club's interior to comply with fire safety standards, saying "they have neither brains, nor conscience". Emergency situations minister Sergei Shoigu told Medvedev the owners had been fined twice in the past for breaking fire safety regulations.

The blast and fire engulfed the club, law enforcement officials said, as a performance artist juggled cold-flame pyrotechnical maces. As he threw them high in the air, the club's ceiling caught fire and almost immediately spread on to the wooden walls, cutting off exits.

People succumbed to smoke inhalation or were trampled attempting to escape the panicky chaos.

The latest death reports varied, with one count as high as 109. Around 130 people were injured, authorities said, with dozens were in critical condition and many of them hooked up to artificial lung ventilators.

Authorities have opened a criminal investigation. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor's Office said several people have been detained: two club co-owners, a club manager, the night club art director, and a businessman who provided the fireworks and is now suffering from burns at a hospital.

The master of ceremonies at the nightclub was cracking jokes late on Friday, surrounded by hundreds of people eating sushi and dancing with drinks in hand, when a pyrotechnic display ignited a plastic ceiling decorated with twigs. “Ladies and gentlemen!” the M.C. shouted. “We are on fire! Leave the hall!”

A stampede ensued that ended in one of Russia’s worst calamities in recent memory. The authorities said Saturday that 109 people died — from the blaze or in the crush of people fleeing — and that more than 130 were injured in the central Russian city of Perm. Many of them were hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns.