Foreign Policy Blogs

Brazil on Fire

How strong is a castle made of sand?

On January 28, a band playing in the popular Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria, Brazil decided to add some flare to their show — literally. Gurizada Fandangueira, a country music band lit an outdoor use flare, the cheapest available, which in turn ignited flammable soundproofing foam on the ceiling. The cost of this polytechnic performance? 235 dead and143 in the hospital, many in critical condition. Almost all of the fatalities were due to smoke inhalation rather than burns.

In the world of partying, these types of antics aren’t entirely uncommon. Revelers around the world often flock to third or second world countries where rules are flexible, adding an aspect of danger and excitement that one simply can’t get due to the prohibitive nature of fire authorities in cities like London or Los Angeles. The ability to flaunt the rules translates to fun.

Yet, Brazil is not Ko Pagnan, Thailand or even Hvar Town Beach, Croatia. Brazil is soon to be the world’s focal point in both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Packing 1,300 people (according to the band’s guitarist and police estimates) into a spot designed for just 700 is a clear violation of fire code… or is it?

The incident highlights what appears to be a complete lack of fire code rules and regulations around the country.

This particular club had almost no emergency infrastructure. There was no alarm or sprinkler system, and there was one functional door for the entire building. Worse yet, none of these faults were against the city’s fire code. Yet, Kiss club does not appear to be an anomaly. According to The Miami Herald, Kiss had been labeled by city officials as being at “medium” risk for fire, but the last inspection took place a year and a half ago. The club’s owner said the “whole country” is to be blamed for a culture so permissive of hazardous behavior and claimed inspectors had done a faulty job. Firefighters and Santa Maria officials say the inspections were carried out in accordance with the law. Perhaps part of gaining first world status is establishment of where the buck stops.

From tragedy, one can only hope that lessons learned lead to a better future. Mayors around the Brazil immediately started cracking down on bars, shutting many down to review rules in place.  In Manaus, 58 bars and nightclubs were temporarily closed. In Rio de Janeiro, officials started dozens of government buildings said to hold expired fire inspection certificates. Reportedly, two nightclubs in the popular Barra de Tijuca have been closed.

Other questions have been bubbling about Brazil’s ability to hold two of the world’s most massive events. Airports are half finished, roads unpaved. But this anecdote does not describe mere aggravations like hours of lines in airports or traffic. It shows what happens when safety rules are flaunted, or never created at all. It adds to a growing list of questions wondering if Brazilian authorities will really be able to get it all together before 2014.



Marie Metz

Marie Metz is a Latin America Security Analyst based in Mexico City, Mexico with frequent travel throughout Latin America. She covered the 2012 and 2013 Venezuelan presidential elections from Caracas, and has lived in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds an M.A. in International Security from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami.

You can follow her on Twitter: @gueritametz or read her individual blog: