Publish date:
Updated on

Fire in Belgian department store kills hundreds

A fire at the L’Innovation department store in Brussels, Belgium, killing several hundred people on this day in 1967. Poor preparation and safety features were responsible for the high death toll.

At L’Innovation, it was the first day of a heavily promoted American fortnight exhibition, a salute to American fashion. There were many United States flags displayed through the store as part of the promotion and hundreds of clerks were on hand for the expected crowds on opening day.

There were approximately 2,500 people shopping in the store during their lunch hours when fire broke out in the furniture department on the fourth floor, just after noon. However, virtually no one in the store was aware of the fire because no fire alarm went off, nor were there any sprinklers. The fire spread quickly because there were only a few handheld extinguishers on hand and some reported that the many flags on display helped fuel the flames. In addition, firefighters were slow to arrive because the store was located in a crowded area of the city with narrow streets.

Panic set in when the shoppers realized what was happening. Many suffered trampling injuries after getting caught in the stampede of people trying to leave the store. At the same time, looters added to the general chaos. Then, several explosions were set off as the fire hit some butane gas canisters in the camping area of the store. Not too long after that, one side of the store collapsed on to some fire engines parked outside. Many people made it to the roof seeking an escape route; at least three died jumping from the building. One firefighter, Jacques Mesmans, jumped from the second floor with a woman whom he was trying to save and broke both of his legs. Most of the fatalities were from smoke inhalation.

Despite speculation that the fire was a deliberate anti-U.S. action, most of the available evidence pointed to an electrical fire.


FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


The War of the Roses begins

In the opening battle of England’s War of the Roses, the Yorkists defeat King Henry VI’s Lancastrian forces at St. Albans, 20 miles northwest of London. Many Lancastrian nobles perished, including Edmund Beaufort, the duke of Somerset, and the king was forced to submit to the more

Great Emigration departs for Oregon

A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to more

Negotiators differ on diplomatic exchange

Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, at the 18th plenary session of the Paris peace talks, says he finds common ground for discussion in the proposals of President Richard Nixon and the National Liberation Front. In reply, Nguyen Thanh Le, spokesman for the North Vietnamese, said the more

First Lady Martha Washington dies

President George Washington’s devoted widow and the nation’s first first lady, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, dies at her Mt. Vernon home on this day in 1802. She was 70 years old. Like her husband, Martha Washington was born in the American colonies as a British subject more

Chandra Levy’s remains found

The remains of former Federal Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy are found on this day in 2002, over a year after the 24-year-old was last seen at a health club. The bone remains, discovered by a man walking through Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, were identified through more