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Inspectors Overlooked Flammable Walls in Nightclub, Reports Show

By Michael Powell
THE WASHINGTON POST

For three years, fire inspectors visited the Rhode Island nightclub that exploded in fire two weeks ago without noticing the highly flammable polyurethane foam covering the walls of the roadhouse.

City inspection reports released Monday in West Warwick reveal that fire inspectors spotted a number of smaller violations -- a fire extinguisher due for service or an exit sign not working -- but never commented on the egg-crate insulation put on the walls to muffle the sound of heavy metal bands.

Town manager Wolfgang Bauer did not return phone calls Monday.

During a Feb. 20 concert, the heavy metal band Great White shot off pyrotechnics and ignited a fast-moving fire that consumed the 50-year-old nightclub and left 98 dead and 180 people suffering from smoke and burns. It was the fourth-worst such nightclub fire in the nation’s history.

The band insists it had permission from club owners, a fact denied by one owner, Jeffrey Derderian. Recent attention has focused more on the decision by Derderian and his brother and partner, Michael, to put cheap insulation on the walls.

Inspectors believe the flammable insulation acted like dry tinder, as a video shot that night shows flames crawling the walls and running across the ceiling. A state grand jury is reviewing the case and will resume hearings Tuesday.

Set along a small commercial strip but backing onto residential lots, the nightclub had long drawn complaints from neighbors who said the sound of the bands rendered a good night’s sleep impossible. In May 2000, West Warwick Police Chief Peter Brousseau told club owners that their entertainment license would not be approved if the club did not address its noise problem, the Providence Journal reported.

The next month the brothers put up the flammable insulation. But Michael Derderian’s attorney, Kathleen Haggerty, told the Associated Press on Monday that the brothers had no idea it was dangerous.