Theatre Fire Causes 100 Deaths
Nearly one hundred persons, mostly of the working class, lost their lives during a theatre fire in the largest theatre in Madrid on September 23. Rescuers found bodies so badly charred that they could not be recognized. Luckily the theatre was not fully occupied for the blaze broke out in an interval between acts.
The fire started on the stage and spread quickly to all parts of the building. So rapid was the fire’s progress that an entire block was destroyed before the blaze could be checked. A defective electric circuit leading to a suspended electrical machine used to imitate lightning in the play, is believed to be the cause. When firemen arrived, the crowds were stampeding about. A number of persons jumped from upper windows and were killed when they struck the pavements below.
The theatre was one of the oldest structures standing in the capital. It was located on a narrow street that hindered operations of the fire department.
Some of those who escaped commended the bravery of an aged woman usher who held a flashlight at an exit and succeeded several times in controlling the mob by begging them to keep order. She was surprised by a sudden rush of flames and was burned to death.
The orchestra continued to play in an attempt to stop the disorder, but they too had to rush from the rapid march of the flames. Many were trampled and thrown down in the galleries.
The hospitals are caring for 350 injured persons, many seriously. Heaps of dead were found near the exits where they were suffocated by smoke. There were indications that patrons mad with terror used knives in an effort to stab a path to safety.
Pitiful scenes took place at the morgue which was besieged by persons seeking to find missing relatives and friends. There were a great number of bodies’ that could not he identified, leaving scores of persons in tragic doubt. One young man identified a body as that of his young wife and six others as members of his family. Entire families were wiped out and there were many children whose parents could not be found.
Civil guards and police surrounded the ruins of the theatre, keeping back throngs of people gathered in all the adjoining streets. The fact that no newspapers arc published on Monday in Spain made the confusion the greater, and hundreds of persons came making inquiries at police, municipal and other official bureaus.
The poor bore the brunt of the tragedy. Whole families of laboring men had been packed in the upper galleries. The narrow stairways leading to these upper levels were quickly choked as fathers sought to fight a way through for their children. The orchestra and stalls were only half filled when the fire broke out and so the majority of these spectators were able to make their way out.