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Sweden Fire Victims Mourned

October 31, 1998

GOTEBORG, Sweden (AP) _ Forensic specialists examining badly burned bodies on Saturday identified more of the 60 young people who died when fire engulfed a crowded dance hall.

Authorities were less successful finding an answer to the most tormenting question: What caused the blaze that raced through a disco packed far beyond capacity, blocked an emergency exit and forced panicking teen-agers to flee down a single staircase and leap from second-story windows?

``As long as the technicians haven’t established the cause of the fire, we don’t know if it’s arson or not,″ Goteborg chief prosecutor Ulf Noren said Saturday.

Noren said earlier there was a ``50-50″ chance that the fire in Sweden’s second-largest city had been set deliberately, prompting speculation that authorities had uncovered fresh clues. But Noren later retracted the remark, saying he’d meant only that no possibilities were being ruled out.

As investigators worked to learn the cause, examiners identified an additional 22 bodies, bringing the total number of victims identified so far to 40. Officials said 49 people had been treated at hospitals and released.

Of the 162 people injured in Thursday night’s fire, 76 remained hospitalized.

Most of the victims were immigrants or the children of immigrants from distant lands like Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yugoslavia.

The first caller alerting authorities to the fire spoke in such heavily accented Swedish that it took three minutes for emergency workers to figure out what was going on and where to send fire trucks, said Per-Olof Ortgren of Goteborg’s emergency services line.

The first fire trucks and rescue squads were on the scene six minutes after the call was received, Ortgren told a news conference. Officials refused to comment on whether a quicker response could have saved any of the victims.

But survivors of the inferno have spoken angrily of what they saw as a slow and even obstructive response.

``No help. No police. No firemen. Just kids helping kids,″ 17-year-old Zuhir Hersi, a disc jockey working at the party, said Friday.

Some survivors accused the emergency squads of keeping them from helping.

``We could have saved more young people if only police hadn’t stopped us,″ Mohanned Hussein was quoted by the newspaper Expressen as saying.

Hundreds of people stood quietly outside the gutted building on Saturday. Mourners laid a 100-foot-long pile of bouquets, candles and cards of remembrance in the parking lot that only a day before had seethed with ambulances and screaming victims.

``I just wanted to show my sympathy. I think about them. There’s nothing else we can do,″ said Caroline Ericsson, an onlooker who didn’t know any of the fire’s victims.

``It’s damn difficult,″ said Connie Mesfin, who said she lost a friend in the blaze.

Lasse Gustafsson, a former Goteborg firefighter severely disfigured in an explosion, came to the site to try to show the victims’ relatives and friends that a strong spirit can help them beat their despair.

``I can’t give them hope. Consolation is enough,″ he said, as people nearby cast uneasy glances at his scars.

Authorities say the dance hall was licensed to hold a maximum of 150 people but that at least 250 and perhaps as many as 400 people were inside when the fire struck. Flames blocked one of the two exit stairways, leaving partygoers only one way out.

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