Associated Press - Brazilian police officials said Monday they've made three detentions and are seeking a fourth person in connection with a blaze that ripped through a nightclub in southern Brazil over the weekend, killing more than 230 people.
Inspector Ranolfo Vieira Junior said at a news conference that the detentions are for investigative purposes and those detained can be held up to five days. He declined to identify those detained or the fourth person sought, but the Brazilian newspaper Zero Hora quotes lawyer Jader Marques saying his client Elissandro Spohr, a co-owner of the club, had been held.
The paper also says police detained two band members who were on stage when the blaze broke out and were thought to have used pyrotechnics in their act.
A military brigade official said Monday the death toll now stands at 231 people in the early Sunday blaze in the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, a university town of about 260,000 people in southern Brazil. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors. Most victims died from smoke inhalation rather than burns.
Police have said they think the pyrotechnics ignited sound insulation on the ceiling, while witnesses have reported a fire extinguisher didn't work and that there was only one working exit. Many of the dead were also found in the club's two bathrooms, where they fled apparently because the blinding smoke caused them to believe the doors were exits.
"It was terrible inside -- it was like one of those films of the Holocaust, bodies piled atop one another," said police inspector Sandro Meinerz. "We had to use trucks to remove them. It took about six hours to take the bodies away."
Survivors and another police inspector, Marcelo Arigony, said security guards 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.
"It was chaotic and it doesn't seem to have been done in bad faith because several security guards also died," Arigony told The Associated Press.
Firefighters responding to the blaze initially had trouble getting inside the Kiss nightclub because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance," Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city's fire department, told the O Globo newspaper.
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.
Guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, started playing at 2:15 a.m. "and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning."
"It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It's harmless, we never had any trouble with it," he said. "When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working."
He confirmed that accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other members made it out safely.
Survivor Michele Pereira told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage when members of the band lit some sort of flare that started the conflagration.
"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward," she said. "At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread."
Police inspector Meinerz, who coordinated 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.
Television images from Santa Maria showed black smoke billowing out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who attended the university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at the hot-pink exterior walls, trying to reach those trapped inside.
Teenagers sprinted from the scene after the fire began, desperately seeking help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms. About half of those killed were men, about half women.
Bodies of the dead and injured were strewn in the street and panicked screams filled the air as medics tried to help. There was little to be done; officials said most of those who died suffocated within minutes.
"There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic, and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead," survivor Luana Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.
The fire spread so fast inside the packed club that firefighters and ambulances could do little to stop it, Silva said.
A community gym soon became a horror scene, with body after body lined up on the floor, partially covered with black plastic as family members identified kin.