February 13

This Day in History

Disaster

Feb 13, 1983:

Cinema burns in Turin

On this day in 1983, 74 people are killed when a fire blazes through a cinema in Turin, Italy.

The Statuto Cinema in Turin had a capacity of just over 1,000 people on two levels, though the show on Sunday, February 13, was not nearly full. A fire began on the ground floor and quickly set several seats ablaze. To make matters worse, the seats had plastic covers that produced toxic smoke when they caught fire. The crowd panicked and ran toward the exits, causing a stampede in which several people were crushed to death.

Firefighters responded quickly to the theater but found that the rear emergency exits were locked. They were forced to break through them with axes and immediately found the bodies of several people who had died while trying in vain to escape. The firefighters were able to get the fire under control before it spread to the upper floor and balcony. On the first level, they found 37 people who had been killed by burns, smoke inhalation or injuries from the stampede. The firefighters, keeping on their masks to protect them from the toxic smoke, then proceeded up to the second floor. There, they found another 37 people, many in a bathroom, who had perished from smoke inhalation. Virtually everyone who was on the second floor when the fire started died.

A subsequent investigation found a few possible causes for the fire: a cigarette, faulty electrical wiring or a firecracker. (Fireworks were a common way to celebrate the approaching Shrove Tuesday holiday at the time.) The investigation also revealed that the cinema managers had locked the rear doors to prevent people from sneaking in without paying.

Laws were subsequently passed banning the use of plastic seat covers that produce toxic smoke.

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