After Santa Maria, Brazil: Could a Nightclub Disaster Happen Here?

Las Vegas is no stranger to fires, but the city has learned a few important safety lessons along the way

The recent nightclub disaster in Santa Maria, Brazil—more than 230 dead in a blaze apparently started by an indoor pyrotechnics display—might raise some questions about Las Vegas. After all, the city has more nightclubs per square mile than just about anywhere else in the world, and Las Vegas never does anything small. Major clubs like Marquee have capacities of nearly 2,000 people at once, and they can be dark, chaotic, and crowded. Could a tragedy like what happened in Brazil happen here?

Las Vegas is no stranger to fires: In November 1980, 85 people perished in a catastrophic fire at the MGM Grand. Another deadly fire at the Las Vegas Hilton three months later underscored the danger, and the fire safety codes governing the city’s mega-resorts were overhauled. Recent fires on the Strip—like the 2008 blaze at the Monte Carlo—were contained with no loss of life.

How about the nightclubs, though?

While local nightclub representatives contacted by Green Felt Journal declined to comment, the Clark County fire code offers some insight. The code does permit indoor pyrotechnics, but it requires sprinklers in any venue with them (a safety measure absent in the Brazil disaster, according to the Associated Press), and has stringent regulations on their deployment and supervision. So it seems unlikely that the pyrotechnics themselves could start a blaze that would escalate like what we saw in Brazil or at Rhode Island’s Station nightclub in 2003. In addition, exit signs are clearly lit and visible (which was also not the case in the Brazil fire), partially due to reforms enacted after the MGM fire. So even if a pyrotechnic display sparked a fire, sprinklers would likely put it out before it became deadly (though not without some damage) and patrons would be able to exit the vicinity.

That’s not to say that there aren’t potential issues with crowd control in any emergency situation in nightclubs, as with any place where hundreds of people are confined in a small space with limited exits. But Las Vegas has applied painful lessons from the tragedy of the MGM Grand fire, making a Santa Maria-type disaster unlikely on the Strip.

What do you think? Does a disaster like the one in Brazil worry you? Or do you think Vegas clubs have safety under control? Tell us in the comments section below.