Kuwait wedding fire 'killed 41 in three minutes'

The fire at a wedding tent in Kuwait that killed 41 women and children consumed the structure in an intense blaze lasting just three minutes, the head of the country's fire brigade said today.

Speaking the day after the disaster, Jassem al-Mansouri said: "It was a horrific scene with bodies and many shoes stuck to the ground at the only exit; they must have trampled over one another."

He said that Kuwaiti authorities were running DNA tests to identify the 35 women and six children killed in the fire, which left many victims unrecognisable.

Authorities were investigating the cause and Mr al-Mansouri said it could have been either faulty electrical wiring in the equipment used to keep the wedding food buffet warm or the coals used for burning incense.

He added that the fire in al-Jahra, a tribal area west of the capital, was the worst he has seen in almost 40 years of service in the small, oil-rich state.

Photographs of the scene show that the tent was erected in an urban area. The interior was strewn with blackened debris, including the metal frames of chairs and tables, and burnt-out air conditioners - a necessity in a country where night temperatures in the summer are often above 40 degrees.

It was not clear if the bride survived or how many were in the tent when it caught fire. Mr al-Mansouri said the structure was 12 metres long and could have housed up to 180 people.

Wedding parties are held separately for women and men, with children attending the women's event. The parties usually feature a catered buffet dinner as well as singing and dancing to Kuwaiti and Arabic music.

No alcohol is served in Kuwait.

Mr al-Mansouri said 58 casualties were still in hospitals, seven of them in a serious condition with severe burns.

He added that events in tents should be licensed so that authorities approve the type of tent set up and ensure it has the necessary safety features. Yesterday's event was not licensed.

The upholstery and the stuffing of the chairs used was also highly flammable, Mr al-Mansouri said.

The Interior Ministry has called on Kuwaitis to stop erecting tents in the middle of crowded neighbourhoods and there has been talk of banning them altogether.

Tents are also used in election campaigns, but by permit only.

The government has opened a telephone line and an information centre for relatives of the victims, Kuwaiti state television said.

The country's ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, extended condolences to the families of the victims, the Kuwait News Agency reported.

He also announced that in sympathy with the victims and their families he would not be receiving well wishers as he traditionally does for the advent of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on August 22.