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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map