It was the second senseless tragedy in less than a week involving a nightclub. The first had been three days earlier — February 17, 2003. Twenty-one people had been killed and more than 50 seriously injured in a stampede trying to escape a Chicago night club after a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. This time the culprit was a pyrotechnic display at a small club in Warwick, Rhode Island, and the damage would be far more devastating.
About 11:00 on Thursday night, February 20, 2003, where approximately 350 people had crowded into a nightclub called The Station, the guest band, Great White, had just begun to play its first song, “Desert Moon.” When the pyrotechnics went off, they ignited the wall and ceiling behind the band. Some thought it was part of the act and kept cheering, others thought someone would get a fire extinguisher and put it out or the sprinklers would come on. But there would be no fire extinguishers or sprinklers and almost immediately a blast of heat let those near the stage know they were in danger.
Instant panic and pandemonium overtook the frantic crowd of 350 people desperately trying to push their way to the front door of the club while flames quickly spread on the ceiling above. Smoke rapidly enveloped the entire building and, in a matter of seconds, the lights went out. Witnesses said people were screaming, pawing, scratching and punching, trying to do anything they could to get out. Other exits were available but, instinctively, most people tried to get out the way they came in causing a huge pileup of people at the front doors. It was estimated 100 patrons became trapped under the crush of people at the front door, unable to escape the burning building.
Concertgoers who couldn’t reach the other exits rushed into the building’s bathrooms trying to escape the heat and smoke. A number of them called on cell phones trying to get help. But help would never get there in time. Witnesses said people were kicking out windows trying to get out and they were on fire. Some who did make it out fell in the snow trying to put out the flames on their own bodies. Others tried covering them with blankets. A number of those who did escape tried to pull as many people out as they could before the entire club went up in flames and became too dangerous to attempt rescuing any more. One man who escaped said it was the most difficult thing in his life to know there were people in that fire, screaming for help, and there was nothing he could do. One mother said she would never forget the sight of a half-mile or more of ambulances and fire engines and hearing people scream.
At the time, the West Warwick nightclub fire was the deadliest fire in the U.S. since the 1993 inferno at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, where some 80 people died. The final toll from the fire was 100 killed and 230 people injured.
If this story sounds familiar, it should. It’s the essence of Easter.
Amazingly, a man named Mike Vargas, who was buried beneath a five-foot high crush of bodies at the front door, survived. He was literally covered by dozens of others, pinned to the floor next to a wall. Miraculously, he was able to turn on his side so he could breathe and he determined to stay calm. There was a tiny air pocket in front of his face. People on top of him were screaming and crying for about 20 to 30 minutes. Then, he said it stopped and he realized those on top of him were dead. Other than some minor burns on his legs, he felt no heat and survived the flames because of those who had died covering him. Their death actually made possible his being able to live.
He fought to stay awake, prayed, and listened to the sirens and sounds of people outside the club, knowing help was getting closer. Finally, over an hour later, he began to feel the weight being lifted off him as a firefighter pulled him to safety.
If this story sounds familiar, it should. It’s the essence of Easter. Jesus Christ covered us with His own body on the cross of Calvary, rescuing us from the fiery flames of an endless eternity in Hell. His death made possible our being able to live forever!
So, this Easter season, if you’re saved, shout with the saints, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” And, if you don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, don’t look for your own exit. Instead, lay your life at the foot of the cross and Jesus will cover you with His.
Talk about a miracle ...
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
© 2019. Barry L. Cameron
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.