Pyrotechnics blamed for club deaths
Brazil has begun three days of national mourning for 231 people killed in a nightclub fire which was reportedly started after a musician lit a flare on stage
Many of the victims were caught in a stampede to escape after the f fast-moving fire roared through a crowded, windowless nightclub in southern Brazil, filling the air in seconds with flames and a thick, toxic smoke.
Inspectors believe the blaze began when a band's small pyrotechnics show ignited foam sound insulating material on the ceiling, releasing a putrid haze that caused scores of university students to choke to death.
Most victims at the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria city, Rio Grande do Sul state, died from smoke inhalation rather than burns in what appeared to be the world's deadliest nightclub fire for more than a decade.
Police inspector Marcelo Arigony said security guards had briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.
But Mr Arigony said the guards did not appear to block fleeing patrons for long. He said: "It was chaotic and it doesn't seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died."
Firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble getting inside the nightclub because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance", according to Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city's fire department.
Authorities said band members who were on the stage when the fire broke out later talked with police and confirmed they used pyrotechnics during their show.
Police inspector Sandro Meinerz, who co-ordinated the investigation at the nightclub, said one band member died after escaping because he returned inside the burning building to save his accordion. The other band members escaped alive because they were the first to notice the fire.
Mr Meinerz said: "It was terrible inside - it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled on top of one another. We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away."