Club Cinq-Sept fire
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The Club Cinq-Sept fire was a major disaster which took place in south-eastern France on Sunday, 1 November 1970. 146 people, almost all aged between 17 and 30, died when a nightclub just outside the small town of Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, Isère was completely destroyed in a catastrophic fire. The scale of the disaster shocked the French nation. Subsequent official enquiries revealed a catalogue of shortcomings, oversights and evasions with regard to fire safety at both local and département level. Criminal charges were brought against a number of those involved, who eventually received suspended jail sentences.
The Club Cinq-Sept
The Club Cinq-Sept (or Club 5-7) opened for business in April 1970. It was situated in a relatively isolated location 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Saint-Laurent-du-Pont and was housed inside a newly constructed building. The building was a large, open-plan windowless structure with external walls built of breeze blocks and with a corrugated iron roof. The main entrance to the club was via a spiked full-height turnstile. The ground floor housed a dance floor, bar and restaurant, with simulated grottos constructed of polyurethane and papier-mâché around the walls. A single spiral staircase led to a gallery which ran right round the building and contained more alcoves and grottos. The roof was supported by pillars which were decorated with various flammable materials.
The Club Cinq-Sept had quickly established itself as a popular draw for young people in the region, attracting customers from Saint-Laurent-du-Pont itself, the nearby towns of Chambéry and Voiron, as well as the city of Grenoble, 20 miles (32 km) away.
On the night of 31 October/1 November 1970, the Club Cinq-Sept had drawn a large crowd to watch a live performance by Storm, an up-and-coming six-piece rock group from Paris. There were an estimated 180 people remaining in the club at 1:40 a.m. when a fire, reportedly caused by a carelessly discarded match igniting a foam-filled seat cushion, started in the gallery and spread very rapidly, fueled by the highly flammable nature of the décor and furnishings. Those caught in the gallery struggled to escape down the spiral staircase as flames spread across the ceiling. Meanwhile in the main club area, around 30 people had managed to exit the premises via the turnstile when, according to survivors, a huge sheet of fire plunged from the gallery, turning the whole building into an inferno. Very few managed to escape after this point. Of those who did, most suffered severe burn injuries. The club had no telephone on the premises. One of the club's managers, Gilbert Bas, was among those who had managed to escape and he had to drive into Saint-Laurent-du-Pont to raise the alarm. With the delay in alerting the emergency services and the great speed with which the fire engulfed the building, the disaster was essentially over by the time firemen arrived on the scene.
In addition to the main entrance, the club had two other external doors. In contravention of fire regulations neither was marked and, at the time of the fire, both were locked. A man who had earlier escaped from the building managed to break open one of the doors, through which one woman was rescued alive. Others who had crowded around the door in an effort to escape were already dead by this time.
The intensity of the fire completely gutted the interior of the building and caused the roof to melt and collapse. When firemen were able to enter the building, they found 140 bodies within, most too badly burned for visual identification to be possible. Six badly-injured survivors were transferred to a specialised burn treatment unit in Lyon; four would succumb to their injuries, bringing the final death toll to 146. Two of the club's three managers were among the dead, as were all six members of the group Storm.
Three days after the fire, the mayor of Saint-Laurent-du-Pont and the Secretary-General of the Isère département were removed from their duties. This rapid move provoked a degree of controversy as it was seen by some, including a number of local politicians in Isère, as premature scapegoating before the full facts had been investigated.
An official enquiry held in Grenoble found that many fire safety regulations had been breached. Planning permission had been obtained for the construction of the building, but French law also required an inspection of the finished structure by Building Safety and Fire Department officials prior to opening for business; this had not been done. There was no firefighting equipment on the premises, and unsafe materials were inappropriately used for internal furnishing and decoration. It was established that the two alternative exit doors required by law had been routinely locked and barred by the managers of the club, to prevent patrons inside the building from opening the doors to let others in free of charge. The three managers held keys, but two of them had themselves been overcome by the fire and the third, Bas, had left the premises to raise the alarm. Moreover, the gallery level had no emergency exit from, its only means of egress being down the spiral staircase and through the main club.
In June 1971, Bas was charged with, and found guilty of, manslaughter in relation to the deaths. He received a two-year suspended sentence. The mayor and three building contractors were found guilty of causing injury through negligence, and received short suspended sentences.
- BBC On This Day - 1 November 1970
- Canning, J: Great Disasters, pages 100-101. Ivy Leaf Books, 1990. ISBN 0-86363-018-9.
- Time Magazine, November 16, 1970
- Le Dauphiné Libéré - article published on 30th anniversary of the disaster (in French)