Club Cinq-Sept fire
|Time||Around 1:40 A.M.|
|Date||Sunday, 1 November 1970|
|Cause||Ignition of interior fittings made of polyurethane and papier-mâché|
|Suspect(s)||Gilbert Bas, club manager
Mayor of Saint-Laurent-du-Pont
Several building contractors
|Charges||Manslaughter, numerous building code and safety violations|
The Club Cinq-Sept fire was a major blaze at a nightclub just outside Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, Isère in south-eastern France on Sunday, 1 November 1970. The catastrophe claimed the lives of 146 people, almost all of whom were aged between 17 and 30. 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 people; some received suspended jail sentences.
The Club Cinq-Sept (or Club 5-7), which was situated in a relatively isolated location 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, opened for business in April 1970. It was housed within a newly-constructed large, open-plan windowless structure with external walls built of breeze blocks supporting 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 quickly established itself as a popular draw for young people in the region, attracting customers from Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, the nearby towns of Chambéry and Voiron, and 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. An estimated 180 people were still in the club at 1:40 a.m. when a fire broke out. It was reportedly caused by a carelessly discarded match igniting a foam-filled seat cushion on the first floor gallery.
The blaze spread rapidly through the roof space fuelled by the building's flammable décor and furnishings. People in the gallery struggled to escape down the single spiral staircase as flames spread across the ceiling. Only 30 people within the main club area managed to exit the building via the main entrance turnstile before a huge wall of fire plunged down from the gallery turning the whole building into an inferno.
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 great speed with which the fire engulfed the building and the delay in alerting the emergency services, there was little the arriving firemen could do when they eventually reached the club.
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.
Investigation and prosecution
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. The gallery level had no emergency exit, its only means of egress was the spiral staircase and through the main club.
The inquiry heard that the club had two alternative exit doors required by law (but in contravention of fire regulations neither was marked) in addition to the main entrance; however both were routinely locked and barred by the club managers in order to prevent patrons inside the building opening them to let others in free of charge. Although three managers held keys, two had succumbed to the effects of the fire and the third, Bas, had left to raise the alarm. The investigation heard how a man who had earlier escaped from the building managed to break open one of the doors, through which one woman was rescued alive. But many other people trapped behind the doors trying to escape were already dead by this time.
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.
- Cocoanut Grove fire, a blaze at a nightclub that killed 492 people in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942.
- 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)