Thailand’s prime minister on Friday ordered an investigation into a massive fire that tore through a crowded music pub, killing at least 14 people – including a singer who was performing when the fire broke out near the stage.
The fire broke out around 1 at the Mountain B nightspot in Chonburi province’s Sattahip district, about 90 miles southeast of Bangkok.
Video footage posted by an emergency service showed desperate revelers fleeing the club screaming, their clothes on fire, as a huge fire raged in the background.
Chalit Chotisupakarn, who escaped with burns to his arms and torso, described scenes of panic and desperation as people struggled to get out of the building.
“I couldn’t see anything, everything was dark. Everyone was shouting ‘Get out! Get out!’ We all had to try to get out,” he told reporters.
“I just pushed and pushed. There were people with fire all over their bodies.”
The Sawang Rojanathammasathan Rescue Foundation said 14 people were killed and about 40 injured.
A waitress at the venue, Thanyapat Sornsuwanhiran, told Thai television reporters that she saw smoke near the stage.
“I shouted ‘fire’ to the customers and I was near the doors so I directed them out. I kept shouting ‘fire, fire’ and the security guards also helped usher people out,” she said .
The service said the fire was fueled by flammable acoustic foam on the club’s walls, and it took firefighters more than three hours to bring it under control.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha offered his condolences to the victims’ families and said he had ordered an investigation into the fire.
The dead – four women and 10 men – were found mostly crowded at the entrance and in the bathroom, their bodies badly burned, the service said.
They were aged between 17 and 49 and all are believed to have been Thai.
“There are no deaths related to foreigners,” police lieutenant colonel Boonsong Yingyong of Phlu Ta Luang police station, which oversees the area where the blaze broke out, told AFP by phone.
One of the victims was the singer of the band that played at the club, his mother told local media.
“I don’t know what to say. The death came all of a sudden,” Premjai Sae-Oung told reporters.
She said a musician friend who managed to escape had told her the fire broke out in front of the band and spread quickly.
“The fire started in the upper right corner of the stage,” a witness identified only as Nana told PPTV. “The singer must have seen it too, so he yelled ‘fire’ and threw the microphone away.”
Pictures of the aftermath showed how the fire had turned the inside of the club into a blackened wreck, with the charred metal frames of furniture scattered among ashes.
Police are investigating whether fire escapes were present in the one-storey building and engineers are inspecting the structure as they fear it could collapse.
Home Affairs Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters that it appeared Mountain B was operating “without a permit” to run as an entertainment venue.
Sompong Chingduang, assistant commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, said the owner was under investigation for apparently changing the venue from a restaurant to a nightclub without a permit.
Concerns have long been raised about Thailand’s lax approach to health and safety regulations, particularly in the country’s countless bars and nightclubs.
A massive inferno broke out at a New Year’s party at Bangkok’s posh Santika club in 2009, killing 67 people and injuring more than 200.
The owner of Santika was jailed for three years because of the fire, which started when fireworks were set off when a rock band called Burn was playing on stage.
In 2016, a nighttime fire in a dormitory at a Christian elementary school in northern Thailand.
More recently, four people were killed in a fire caused by an electrical fault at a club on the resort island of Phuket, a magnet for foreign tourists, in 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.