Feb 252003

For 97 people to die in a nightclub fire requires heroic effort all around. There’s the band, who neglected even to get permission for a pyrotechnic display they shouldn’t be putting on in a low-ceilinged room in the first place. There are the owners, who didn’t bother to supervise the stage set. And then there are the unfortunate patrons themselves, who, being Great White fans after all, didn’t concentrate in the right tail of the distribution. When the display caught fire, most of the fans just stood and cheered; all part of the show. The place held 300 people and wasn’t filled to capacity. All four fire exits were open and clearly marked, and there were at least two minutes to find them before there was too much smoke to see. Nonetheless nearly half of the patrons managed to die, with most of the bodies found piled at the front door, where the “victims,” if that is the term, stampeded and trampled each other to death in a panic. Sometimes stupidity is criminal; sometimes it is fatal.