Guards Blocked Exit in Mexico City Disco Fire

With flames and smoke filling a glitzy Mexico City nightclub, terrified patrons fled for the sole exit — only to find the club’s guards barring the way to some, demanding they first pay their bills, survivors said.

The blaze killed 20 people, and injured two dozen more.

The Lobohombo club was still packed at 5 a.m. when the blaze started Friday. “Please! It’s burning! Open the door!” Sara Falcon said she and others pleaded to the guards who stopped them asking for tickets proving they’d paid.

“Everyone was shouting,” she told TV Azteca news, wiping away tears. “Many people were on fire, yelling and throwing themselves on the floor. Others were yelling, ‘Open the door because people are burning!’”

Witnesses said patrons panicked when smoke began filling the disco, and began scrambling to escape out the club’s only exit. The building had no emergency exits, authorities said. It took 90 minutes to put out the blaze.

The Lobohombo with its mirrored facade, was one of the best known nightclubs in North America’s largest city. Gloria Estefan held a party there in August and salsa superstar Willie Colon had performed there.

Short Circuit to Blame?

Hours after the tragedy, hundreds milled outside the charred building, its mirrors shattered and blackened with smoke. Its trademark, a sign featuring the face of a cartoon dog, was gone.

Police said a short circuit in the sound booth may have sparked the blaze, but firefighters said witnesses reported hearing several explosions. Officials put the death toll at 20.

Falcon’s aunt, Lorena Falcon Perez, said her 16-year-old daughter was trapped in the flames, and later carried out of the building as chunks of burning wood fell to the ground. She suffered third-degree burns and was in critical condition at a local hospital.

“When the doctors told me about my daughter, I fainted,” Falcon Perez said. “It’s not right what those [owners of the disco] did. A place that has events like this should at least be safe.”

Authorities said the club had a long history of legal problems, repeatedly clashing in court with the city.

Operating as a Restaurant

Lobohombo was operating with a permit for a restaurant rather than a nightclub, authorities said. Its 4,700 square feet surpassed the maximum size permitted by law. The club had a capacity for more than 1,000 people, but at times held up to 3,000.

Authorities shut the club down 11 times for code violations but the owners managed to negotiate its reopening each time, said Dolores Padierna, a local neighborhood representative.

Earlier this year, officials ordered the club closed because it lacked a permit for table dancing. The disco had featured female dancers.

The owner secured a federal court injunction allowing it to stay open, said local official Maria Inez Munoz.

An attorney for the club’s owner, Alejandro Iglesias Rebollo, disputed the allegations that officials had tried to close down the club.

City officials inspected and approved the club in June, attorney Victor Trejo Sanchez told the Radio Red network.

The Iglesias family owns more than 80 nightclubs in the city. Authorities said many have been cited for violations. A month ago, authorities closed their bar La Luna after discovering drugs were being sold there. A few months before that, police arrested a group of women for dancing naked at one of their other bars, Hawaii.

According to the National Association of Discos and Bars, 15,000 establishments are in violation of the minimum operating norms in Mexico. Violations range from closing long after the set hours of operation to allowing prostitution and drugs.