A fire at a Colombian nightclub in Murcia, Spain, has resulted in 13 deaths. The fire began in the early hours of Sunday, October 1st in an area known as Las Atalayas. Initial investigations indicate that the fire started in the Fonda Milagros hall, which had not held a nightclub license since January 2022, according to Spanish authorities, and spread to two adjoining venues owned by a Colombian originally from Manizales.
As of now, 13 fatalities have been reported. Concerns were raised about the lives of five individuals who were initially missing, but they were later found safe on Sunday evening. The city of Murcia, where the tragedy occurred, has declared three days of official mourning.
A Colombian-style nightclub
The burnt venues were part of a property owned, among others, by Colombian national Juan Esteban Ramirez, who has been living in Spain for 20 years. According to firefighters, only drywall separated the Fonda Milagros from the Teatre nightclub, and the ornate decoration with wooden and plastic elements may have facilitated the rapid spread of the flames. Both venues have been completely destroyed, and forensic police are investigating the nature of the fire.
The venue’s owner spoke to Blu Radio and stated that “the nightclub’s theme was 100% Colombian, very much in the style of a ‘fonda,’ which is quite typical. It aimed to remind people that even though we are far from our country, we can still feel at home. That’s why customers loved it so much; it reminded them of Colombian culture.”
The exact origin of the fire has not yet been determined. Initial investigations suggest that the fire started around 6 a.m., shortly before closing time, with no more than 200 people inside the venues.
The fire began in the Fonda Milagros and spread to the adjoining Teatre nightclub, from which people were successfully evacuated. All the victims were found on the top floor of the Fonda Milagros, where the fire originated. They were trapped when the rapid combustion of materials caused the roof to collapse.
Lack of a license
Although the nightclub’s representative claimed to Spanish media that the venue’s paperwork was up to date, it was soon revealed, as reported by the Murcia City Council, that the owner had not held a nightclub license for 20 months. This could lead to criminal consequences for the property owner, potentially for manslaughter.
Regarding accusations of operating without a license, Juan Esteban Ramirez has vehemently denied that the authorities had notified him of the closure order. “If the police notify a venue that it cannot operate, the first to close it down would be the same authorities, both in Colombia and here in Spain. It’s definitely beyond anyone’s comprehension, as the police here are very effective and strict when it comes to regulations and rules,” the venue owner told Blu Radio in Colombia.
Complex identification of victims
Currently, 13 deaths have been confirmed, with only three of the victims identified so far. There are 24 reported injuries, all due to smoke inhalation, with none of the injured individuals considered to be in critical condition. Two people were transported by ambulance to the local Reina Sofía Hospital, while two others went to a healthcare center on their own. These include two women aged 22 and 25 and two men aged 41 and 45. Many other injured individuals made their way to various hospitals and healthcare centers independently.
While investigations are ongoing, it has been revealed that the cause of death for the victims was primarily smoke inhalation, although the intensity of the flames may have resulted in the bodies being charred, which complicates the identification process.
Teatre S.L. informed the Murcia City Council on June 27, 2019, of a “substantial” change in activity that required a new license to divide it into two venues: Teatre and Fonda. Following this modification, on January 10, 2022, the Urban Planning Department of the City Council issued a cease-and-desist order that was not complied with.
The spokesperson for the Teatre nightclub stated on Spanish television that the venue had passed its annual inspections for safety measures, including fire extinguishers, a water pump in case of fire, and sprinklers. It had a capacity of approximately 700 people.
At this moment, the authorities’ investigation is focused on determining why the closure order issued since January 2022 was not followed.
According to firefighters, when up to 70 units arrived at the scene of the fire, “the situation quickly became absolutely unbearable. They were spraying water, but it was turning into steam at such a high temperature that the intense heat overwhelmed them, and they had to go out for oxygen.”
Firefighters arrived just minutes after receiving the alert and managed to extinguish the fire in a little over half an hour, but the ferocity of the flames caused a tragedy of a severity not seen in Spain since 1990.