Fireworks blamed for Thai club inferno

Dozens killed in blaze as New Year's Eve revellers stampede for a single exit

Four Britons were among hundreds injured in a Bangkok nightclub fire that killed at least 61 yesterday.

Two remained in intensive care last night as the death toll from the inferno, thought to have been caused by fireworks let off inside the crowded Santika Club during New Year celebrations, was expected to rise.

Some died during a stampede towards the one public exit, while others were trapped inside, with the blaze sweeping through the two-storey building in 10 minutes. A local police forensic expert said it might take a week to identify almost 30 badly disfigured bodies.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Alex Wargacki, aged 29 a foreign exchange trader from Finchley, north London, described how he was dragged to safety by a stranger after he collapsed and lost consciousness. "I woke up and heard this voice saying, 'Come on. Come on this way.' Then I felt myself being dragged towards an exit. A crowd of people parted in front of me and then I was out in the open air.."

Mr Wargacki had been celebrating New Year's Eve with friends to rap and hip-hop music in the club when the fire started shortly after midnight. "Suddenly to the right of the stage, I saw a firework being let off among a crowd of partygoers. It shot right across the room. I don't know exactly how long but it seemed no time at all when the whole place, walls and ceilings were ablaze.

"Then everyone started running for the door. But the door seemed tiny and people were jammed up against it. If there was another way out, none of us knew about it, and all the windows were barred. There were flames from the floor to the ceiling. I could hear windows cracking and breaking in the heat. I blacked out and fell to the floor. That's when I heard the voice."

He continued: "I guess I always knew the place was a bit of a death trap. But that's like so many places here. That's Thailand. You come to expect it. I have worked here for four years and got used to it." Mr Wargacki was taken to the Samitivej Hospital along with fellow Briton Oliver Smart, 35, who was still unable to speak last night.

The other two Britons are Adam Butler and Steven Hall, from South Wales. Mr Hall was treated at the city's Bamrungrad Hospital for burns to his back and hand.

Mr Hall said: "About 12.30 or 12.45, I saw flames billowing out across the ceiling. At first I thought it was part of the show, along with everybody else I think, but I noticed the look of terror on the people's faces on the actual stage and I instantly realised it wasn't. I could feel the heat almost straight away... it was burning my back."

The club was hosting a "Goodbye Santika" party because it was due to close. Thai officials said it was packed with 1,000 revellers when the fire began. In Bangkok, safety regulations are only patchily enforced. The local police chief, Lieutenant General Jongrak Jutanont, told The Nation newspaper that an initial investigation had established that the Santika's safety system was "sub-standard".

Those inside the club were hindered by the lack of exits, as well as bars on the second-floor windows. Most of the bodies, which were ferried from the scene in pick-up trucks, were found in a pit area surrounding the stage. A second exit, at the rear, was known only to staff.

About 200 people were injured, among them 35 foreigners, and at least 10 non-Thais were among those killed.

Sompong Tritaweelap, who lives behind the Santika, in the central Ekamai entertainment district, said: "Everyone was pushing against each other, trying to get out to the front door as quickly as possible. I saw people, particularly girls, being pushed away and crushed as others were stomping on them, trying to get out."

He added: "People were screaming for help from every window. It was a terrible sight. Their hair and clothes were on fire, but there was nothing they could do as the fire engulfed them."

Witnesses said the countdown to 2009 was accompanied by a pyrotechnics display which sent sparks flying from the stage, where a band was playing. Earlier, sparklers had been handed out to clubbers, some of whom had taken firecrackers with them.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power