Fatal Brazil Fire Caused by Energy Spike: Flamengo CEO

By Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil—The fire that killed 10 young footballers at Flamengo’s training ground in Rio de Janeiro was caused by a spike of electricity that led to a fire in an air conditioning unit, the club’s CEO Reinaldo Belotti said on Saturday, Feb. 9.

The fire started in the early hours of Friday morning, a day after a devastating storm struck Rio and killed at least six people.

Belotti said the adverse weather conditions caused energy spikes that could have caused the fire at the Ninho do Urubu, Flamengo’s training center on the outskirts of the city.

“It was a succession of events after a catastrophic day for Rio that led to this even greater catastrophe,” Belotti told reporters.

Flamengo's soccer players pray
Flamengo’s soccer players pray at the club’s training center, after part of it burned down, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb. 9, 2019. (Alexandre Vidal/Flamengo Soccer Club/Handout via Reuters)

Lack of Permits

Local media reported that the fire started in a dorm where youth soccer players sleep. The fire official said that could not be confirmed.

One of the 13 young players to escape the blaze had previously said he fled the building after waking up and seeing his air conditioning unit on fire. Three teenagers were taken to hospital with injuries, one of them in serious condition.

Belotti did not take questions but said a reported lack of permits for the building was not a factor in the accident.

The Rio de Janeiro’s mayor’s office said in the hours after the blaze that the dormitory was built on an area registered as a car park. The city had warned Flamengo “almost 30 times” to close the lodging down, it said.

Belotti said there was no connection between the lack of permits and the fire.

Soccer fans of Flamengo soccer club
Soccer fans of Flamengo soccer club hold a banner in front of the club’s headquarters after a deadly fire in their training center, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb. 9, 2019. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters)

‘A Tragic Accident’

“This area was well known to everyone,” he said. It was comfortable and adequate. We were proud of it.”

“The truth is that it was a tragic accident. It was not because of a lack of investment by Flamengo, it was not because Flamengo did not take care.”

All 10 of the dead were aged between 14 and 16 and either played for the club or were having trials there, Brazil’s Globo website reported.

fire at Flamengo soccer club
A friend reacts as he attends the funeral service for soccer player Vinicius de Barros Silva Freitas after a deadly fire at Flamengo soccer club’s training center, in Volta Redonda, Brazil, on Feb. 9, 2019. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

Flamengo have not revealed information about the players.

The team posted on its Twitter account: “Flamengo is in mourning.”

The dream of many youths in Latin America’s largest nation, winner of five World Cup titles, is to make it into the ranks of professional soccer. The development leagues identify promising players at a young age, working with them as they grow through their teenage years.

The best of those eventually play for Flamengo and several other teams across Brazil.

The emblem of Flamengo
The emblem of Flamengo is pictured in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 16, 2018. (Ricardo Moraes/File Photo/Reuters)

As news of the fire broke, several teams and players expressed their condolences on Twitter.

“We are extremely sad and shaken by the news of the fire,” tweeted Chapeco, a team in southern Brazil that lost 22 players in a plane crash in 2016.

Jefferson Rodrigues, who runs a small inn near the club, said he had reached a 15-year-old player he had befriended.

friend, fans stand at entrance
Friends, fans and journalists stand at the entrance of the Flamengo soccer training center as they wait for information after a fire in the facilities of the soccer club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb. 8, 2019. (Leo Correa/AP)

“I am very happy. I just spoke to Caix Suarez and he is alive,” said Rodrigues, adding that the youth told him he ran when he saw the flames in the morning. “He lost his phone, and all of his things, but the important thing is he is alive.”

By Andrew Downie, Peter Prengaman and Marcelo Sousa Da Silva. The Associated Press contributed to this report.