Spain’s deadliest nightclub fire in 33 years killed 13 people on 1 October 2023, the latest in a long list of tragic fires that have proven the need for automatic fire sprinkler systems in these occupancies. The fire is alleged to have started around 6 am in the Teatre nightclub on the outskirts of the city of Murcia in the southeast of Spain, but the dead were found in La Fonda Milagrosa, one of three adjoining nightclubs.

According to CNN, the Teatre venue opened as a licensed nightclub in 2008, but in 2019 the owner decided to split the building in two to create La Fonda, reportedly separating the two only with gypsum wallboard. By 2022 local authorities had decided the alterations required scrutiny and that a separate license would be needed for La Fonda. Questions have been raised as to whether La Fonda even had an emergency exit. La Fonda Milagrossa was ordered to close in January of 2022, and the order to close was reissued in October of 2022 when the owner’s appeal was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, it continued to operate, with the enforcement failures leading to tragedy.

The most deadly nightclub fire in Spain took place in December of 1983, when 81 people died in a nightclub fire in Madrid, but there have already been numerous deadly nightclub fires around the world in this century:

October 2015 – Bucharest, Romania – 45 dead
January 2013 – Santa Maria, Brazil – 242 dead
January 2009 – Bangkok, Thailand – 66 dead
September 2008 – Shenzhen, China – 43 dead
April 2008 – Quito, Ecuador – 14 dead
December 2004 – Buenos Aires, Argentina – 194 dead
December 2003 – Perm, Russia – 153 dead
February 2003 – Rhode Island, USA – 100 dead

Nightclubs are notoriously crowded and dark, the use of alcohol by patrons can impair judgement, and security concerns often compromise exits. Advocates of automatic fire sprinkler systems recognize their ability to overcome these obstacles and prevent such tragedies.