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Mass For 43 Victims In Disco Fire; Toxic Fumes Blamed For Deaths

January 15, 1990

ZARAGOZA, Spain (AP) _ About 2,000 people filled the city’s main cathedral today for a one-hour funeral Mass for the 43 people killed in a discotheque fire, which medical examiners said had released deadly fumes.

Medical examiners found fatal levels of carbon monoxide in blood samples taken from all of the victims of the fire early Sunday, said Judge Javier Seoane, who is heading up the judicial investigation in this northeastern city.

He added the samples had been sent to Madrid for further tests to determine if other poisonous gases were present.

The victims apparently died from the hydrocyanic acid as well as carbon monoxide poisoning, government spokesman Ignacio Bruna said. Many of the victims died in their seats in the basement lounge.

Both types of fumes can be given off when carpets, drapes, furniture coverings and other synthetic material made from certain compounds come into contact with intense heat, Civil Protection chief Antonio Herrero said.

The victims included five members of a band playing in the lounge and the parents and wife of one of the dead musicians, the Spanish news agency EFE said.

A U.S. military base is about 10 miles west of Zaragoza, but the discotheque was not frequented by U.S. servicemen, and authorities said all the victims were local residents.

One woman remained hospitalized with serious injuries, doctors said. A firefighter and another customer were treated and released.

The fire began in the Flying discotheque in a run-down section of Zaragoza, when an electrical overload triggered a short circuit. It was extinguished in minutes.

However, toxic smoke poured through air-conditioning ducts to the basement, where the dance floor, bar and lounge are located, said a local government representative, Carlos Perez Anadon.

Investigators found traces of hydrocyanic acid in the lounge, said Bruna.

Perez Anadon said the official cause of the fire and the deaths would not be determined until autopsies were completed, but he added that hydrocyanic acid is commonly mixed with water in executions by poisonous gas. The acid is also sometimes used as a fumigant.

However, Spanish National Radio said the chemical, used to produce acrylic fibers, may have been in material for the discotheque’s interior decoration.

Perez Anadon said records indicated the club’s owners had not used materials with the chemical, which is prohibited by city fire laws.

Herrero said about 5 percent of all synthetic fibers, including acrylics, contain hydrocyanic acid.

Investigators said they first suspected hydrocyanic acid because the victims were overcome so quickly.

″They didn’t make any type of movement to protect themselves,″ said Herrero, who arrived at the discotheque with rescue workers.

Deputy Mayor Luis Garcia Nieto said firefighters arrived eight minutes after they received news of the fire, but he said rescue workers could do little to help those inside.

″Several people died in their seats. It was very fast,″ added Antonio Gonzalez Trivino, mayor of Zaragoza, a provincial capital 200 miles northeast of Madrid.

Perez Anadon and Gonzalez Trivino both said the disco appeared to be in compliance with fire laws enacted in December 1983 after a fire at a Madrid disco killed 79 people.

It was the second catastrophic fire in Zaragoza in a decade. More than 70 people died in a July 1979 blaze at the Corona de Aragon hotel.

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