Worst Building Fires in US History

Worst Building Fires in US History

[1] World Trade Center, New York City

Perhaps the most well-known tragic event in human history. an event that changed the world in many ways was the intentional crashing of two airlines that hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, when 2,753 people lost their lives.

There is some debate as to whether you could call this an explosion or a fire, but since a high proportion of people died from the subsequent fires, I believe that it is correct to include this in our list of the deadliest building fires.

The crashing of the two jetliners and the release of fuel that occurred, the work of the terrorist group Al Queda resulted in many people dying from the flames as they had no way of escape. Not only were there the many lives lost at the time, but tens of thousands of people have since been affected by the toxins and chemicals that were released, some of them fatally.

The fires continued at the site for 99 days after the tragedy.

[2] Cocoanut Grove fire

The Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston Massachusetts was the second most deadly fire in American History. It took place on November 28th in 1942. The fire claimed 492 lives. The club was owned by Barnet “Barney” Welansky, who had close connections to both the Mafia and the Mayor. They had ignored regulations on fire safety.

Fire regulations had not been adhered to and some exit doors had been padlocked closed to prevent people sneaking in without paying. The palm tree decor was constructed of highly flammable materials, and they had filled the air conditioning with flammable gas as Freon was in short supply (because of the war).

The club was filled to twice its legal capacity. A couple had removed a light bulb to get more privacy and a busboy was told to replace it. He lit a match so he could see what he was doing and the draperies caught alight, rapidly spreading flames to all areas of the club.

After this tragedy new fire-safety laws were introduced for public establishments. Fortunately, the local emergency services were better equipped for a large-scale incident as they had just held an emergency drill to rehearse the consequences of Japanese attacks on the East Coast. The new blood-banks proved invaluable in treating the burn victims and a great deal was learned about treating burns.

[3] Rhythm Club Fire

The Rhythm Club Fire, or The Natchez Dance Hall Holocaust, was a fire in Natchez, Mississippi on April 23rd, 1940. The death toll from the fire was 209, with many others severely injured. Hundreds of people were trapped inside the dance hall

The Dance Hall was a converted blacksmiths shop, that had been used as a church for a while and then leased by a social group called “The Money Wasters.”

The hall had 24 windows, most of which were nailed shut on the evening of the fire. It had just one inward opening door that leads into the foyer where there were two inward opening doors to the outside. A death trap by any account. On the night of the fire, there were 746 people in the hall, including the 14 piece band.

The fire started at around 11 pm near the main door and set alight the “Spanish Moss” that had been draped over the rafters as a decoration. The moss had been treated with a spray to get rid of bugs, but the spray was highly flammable. When the fire struck it engulfed the hall quickly.

The first Fire Engine got there in minutes and hosed water at the entrance area, and also at the rear of the club. The firemen could hear people screaming as they worked, and screams could be heard all around the town.

Bandleader Walter Barnes and his band all died. Barnes was hailed as a hero as he tried to calm the audience and led the singing of Marie by Irving berlin as the fire raged.

[4] Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City

The fourth worst fire was once again a terrorist attack, this time from domestic terrorists, who killed 168 men, women, and children, in what we now call the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Over 40% of the deaths were from the ensuing fire, not the explosion itself (according to the Oklahoma Department of Health). The explosion was a result of the car bomb parker at the building that detonated on April 19, 1995, and brought down the north side of the building.

The attack was carried out by Timothy McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols. McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection in 2001, and Nicholls is serving multiple life sentences in a Colorado federal penitentiary.

[5] Beverly Hills Supper Club, South Gate, Kentucky

The fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club took place on May 28, 1977, and there was a tragic loss of 165 people. More than 3,000 people were in the club when the fire started in the Zebra Room. Fortunately, most were able to escape the club but 165 people did not make it.

The fire spread from the Zebra Room along an interior corridor and spread throughout the club. At the time it was the most deadly fire in the USA for thirty years. Another example of how entertainment venues were not taking fire safety seriously.

[6] The Station Nightclub, West Warwick, Rhode Island

The fire at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island was caused by the band’s pyrotechnic display. The fire took place on February 20th, 2003, and killed 100 people, injuring another 230. The pyrotechnic display was set off by Great White’s tour manager and it set the acoustic foam in the walls and ceiling alight. It took less than one minute to reach the “flashover” point where all combustible materials burst into flames. Within just two minutes, the club was full of thick acrid black smoke. Escape was impossible and the rush towards the door, which was blocked by falling people meant that 100 were killed, 132 were fortunate to get out before the fire took hold, and 230 were injured getting out.

The pyrotechnic devices that cause the fire were “Gerbs”, which were cylinders that shot out a controlled spray of sparks. It is these sparks that caused the foam to catch alight. Initially, the audience thought it was part of the pyrotechnic display as the flames raced around the musicians, but when the flames met the ceiling people realized. 20 seconds after the pyrotechnics had finished, the lead singer simply said, “wow, that’s Not Good” before everyone dashed for the exits.

It is believed that before dashing for the exit, the lead singer tried to salvage equipment with the help of the DJ and this delay cost them their lives.

It should be noted that the club was 15% over capacity and many of the deaths were caused by trampling as people panicked to get out. There were four possible exits but most people attempted to get out the main door where they had come in, this is where the most loss of life occured.

[7] Happy Land Social Club, Bronx, New York

I think it is clear that we are beginning to see a trend here, where the most deadly fires had taken place in clubs. Our seventh fire was also at a club, the Happy Land Social Club, in the Bronz. The fire took place on 25th March 1990. It led to the deaths of 87 people. Unlike earlier club fires, this one was not caused by stupidity, or non-adherence to fire regulations, but by pure malice.

A Cuban refugee had earlier got into a fight with his girlfriend who worked there. He was ejected from the club, and in a fit of rage he returned at around 3 am with a can of petrol and matches.

He set the main guest exit on fire, and then pulled the metal front gate closed. With the petrol accelerant, it took just minutes for 87 people to die. Most of the victims were young Hondurans who were celebrating carnival. Only three people survived. Had the club fully adhered to fire safety regulations then many deaths would not have occurred.

Even before the fire, the club had been told to close because of building code violations, some two years earlier.. No follow-up was made by the fire department. This shows how fire safety regulations were not being enforced well enough.

[8] MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

The MGM Grand Hotel and Casino fire claimed 87 victims. There were a further 700 injuries. The fire occurred on 21st November 1980 on the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada.

The fire began with an electrical fault in a pastry display case in a restaurant on the first floor. The fire soon spread around the whole Casino and then smoke started to rise in the hotel tower. There were some 5,000 guests in the complex at the time.

The fire began at 7:07 am the fire began and was discovered by a supervisor on an inspection of the restaurant. a few minutes later. A hotel employee working in the bakery recounted how just after 7 am he saw smoke coming from a ceiling vent and the lights went out. At 7:17 the Clark County Fire department received a call and was the first agency to respond when they arrived at the site at 7:19 am.

At 7:30 am a Metro police helicopter pilot put out a call for ALL helicopters to respond. A massive helicopter rescue took place from Nellis airforce base who managed to pluck 1,000 people from the rook of the hotel. From the time the first report of the fire was called in it took just six minutes to engulf the whole casino floor. There were no sprinklers on the casino floor and 18 people died on the casino floor. A further 18 people died for the casino level of the hotel. The rest of the deaths were caused by toxins and smoke rising in the hotel tower. MGM later faced $2 Billion in lawsuits on Fire Safety measures. In which now, they have one of the best smoke design buildings ever in the United States.

[9] The Ghost Ship,’ Oakland, California

Another fire safety failure resulted in 36 deaths at the Ghost Ship in Oakland California. This fire took place on 3rd December 2016 and resulted in the deaths of 36 people.

This warehouse fire in a multi-use complex, called the Ghost Ship opposed several Fire Safety questions for the authorities. The building was filled with combustible wooden objects and was lacking a sprinkler system. The staircase was made of wooden pallets very quickly caught fire and trapped party-goers on the second floor. There were also several people living illegally in the Art Collective.

The warehouse only had a permit for industrial use, yet had entertainment events taking place and residents. In the inquiry which took place in 2017, they discovered references to electrical faults way back in 2014, Once again Fire Safety issues had not been followed up. One person who had rented a unit in the Ghost Ship had reported that the whole electrical system was based around using extension cords. She had been so unhappy about the situation that she slept in her car.

[10] Upstairs Lounge, New Orleans

The Upstairs Lounge was a new Orleans Gay Bar. An unknown arsonist chose to set fire to the bar on 24th June 1973, It was a clear attempt to cause mass casualties as he dowsed the stairwell with lighter fluid before setting it alight. This blocked the escape route for patrons.

It took just minutes before the whole bar was on fire Because the management had not followed Fir Safety regulations the number of deaths was far greater than it needed to be. With the main stairwell on fire and the fire exit not marked, people just had nowhere to go.

Most of the terrible fires that we have read about in this article have been places of entertainment, and most of them had not adhered to fire safety regulations, and this should be of concern to us all.