Wed, Sep 07, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Props ignite, 31 die in Egyptian fire

AP , BENI SUEF, EGYPT

A deadly fire that killed 31 people in an Egyptian theater began when an actor knocked over a candle on a stage set filled with billowing paper, sending panicked actors and audience members surging toward the one exit door.

Health Minister Mohammed Awad Tag Eddin said yesterday that he expected an investigation to examine both the fire's cause and why so many people died. Fire code issues will be part of the investigation, said Mustafa Alwy, a high-ranking official in the Culture Ministry that runs the theater.

The government requires some fire-safety measures in buildings across Egypt, including fire extinguishers, but in general those rules are not strictly enforced.

Local officials believe the fire late on Monday began with the toppled candle, then quickly spread to the brown-paper bags that lined the walls as part of a stage set, said a senior local police official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Audience members trampled each other as they tried to get out through the one available exit door, which itself was partially blocked by a piece of wood that had fallen in the blaze.

The theater had two exit doors, but one was covered in the same paper as the set and was in flames, so the crowd rushed for the other, said Mohammed Arafat Yassin, 27.

He and some others managed to climb around the piece of wood blocking the remaining exit door, but it slowed the escape, he said.

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