WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Twenty years ago, 100 people died and more than 200 others were injured in a fire at the Station nightclub in West Warwick.
So what caused the fire that night, and why was it so disastrous?
Here’s a timeline of what happened, with information from the report compiled by the National Fire Protection Association in the wake of the tragedy:
The headliner, Great White, took the stage at about 11:07 p.m. As the opening number got underway, their manager set off pyrotechnic devices known as gerbs, which shoot sparks into the air. The sparks ignited the foam insulating material that surrounded the stage, and the flames quickly began to spread.
9 seconds after ignition: Flames are first visible on the wall above the stage. At first, the crowd seemed to think it was part of the show.
19 seconds: The crowd begins to react as the flames progress upward. Members of the band start to become aware of the fire.
25 seconds: The flames start spreading to the ceiling.
35 seconds: The band stops playing and leaves the stage, and the audience begins to flee toward the main entrance.
48 seconds: Fire alarms go off. The report says the Station had working alarms, but they weren’t connected to a central station service or the local fire department’s alarm office. The club did not have automatic sprinklers installed.
1 minute: The building starts to fill with thick, black smoke.
1 minute, 53 seconds: The majority of the crowd tries to escape through the main entrance, creating a massive bottleneck in the narrow corridor as heavy smoke pours out above their heads. Those who made it out of the building try to help free people trapped in the pile.
2 minutes: Fire alarms no longer audible.
2 minutes, 23 seconds: People try to escape through windows near the bar area.
3 minutes: Thick, black smoke is coming out of all doors and windows as the fire continues to grow.
3 minutes, 25 seconds: The front entrance is filled with smoke as the crowd of people struggles to escape.
4 minutes: Black smoke continues to thicken.
4 minutes, 30 seconds: Flames can be seen at the front entrance and in the open windows along the front of the building. The first fire crews arrive on scene and begin spraying down the front entrance in an effort to save all the people still trapped inside.
5 minutes: The fire has spread throughout the building.
6 minutes: The building is fully involved, with many people still trapped inside.
A triage area was set up in a restaurant across the street. In the hours that followed, more than 200 people were treated at the scene and taken to area hospitals.
The initial death toll was 96 people, but four more died in the weeks that followed.
In December 2003, a state grand jury handed up indictments charging the owners of the nightclub and the band’s manager with 200 counts of manslaughter.
The cause of the fire was determined to be the use of pyrotechnics combined with the presence of combustible interior finish, materials and furnishings. This, according to the report, caused the people inside the club to quickly be overcome by smoke and heat which hindered their ability to escape, along with the narrow means of egress at the main entrance.
The fire and the subsequent investigation led to significant changes in fire code and safety regulations.