Thailand’s prime minister on Friday ordered an investigation into a massive fire that engulfed a crowded music pub, killing at least 14 people, including a singer who was performing when the fire broke out near the stage.
The fire broke out around 1 a.m. at Mountain B nightclub in Sattahip district, Chonburi province, about 90 miles southeast of Bangkok.
Video footage released by a rescue service showed desperate revelers running from the club screaming, their clothes on fire, as a huge fire raged in the background.
Chalit Chotisupakarn, who escaped with burns to his arms and chest, described scenes of panic and despair as people struggled to get out of the building.
“I couldn’t see anything, everything was dark. Everyone was shouting ‘Get out! Get out!’ We all had to try to get out,” he told reporters.
“I just pushed and pushed. There were people with fire all over their bodies.”
The Sawang Rojanathammasathan Rescue Foundation said 14 people were killed and around 40 injured.
A waitress on site, Thanyapat Sornsuwanhiran, told Thai TV reporters she saw smoke near the stage.
“I yelled ‘fire’ to customers, and I was near the doors, so I got them out. I kept yelling ‘fire, fire’ and the security guards were also helping to make get people out,” she said.
The department said the fire was accelerated by flammable acoustic foam on the walls of the club and took firefighters more than three hours to bring it under control.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha offered his condolences to the families of the victims and said he had ordered an investigation into the fire.
The dead – four women and 10 men – were mostly found huddled near the entrance and in the bathroom, their bodies badly burned, the service said.
They were between 17 and 49 years old and were all believed to be Thai.
“There are no deaths related to foreigners,” police Lt. Col. Boonsong Yingyong of Phlu Ta Luang police station, who oversees the area where the fire occurred, told AFP by telephone.
One of the victims was the lead singer of the band who played at the club, his mother told local media.
“I don’t know what to say. Death happened suddenly,” Premjai Sae-Oung told reporters.
She said a musician friend who managed to escape told her the fire started in front of the group and spread quickly.
“The fire started in the upper right corner of the stage,” a witness identified only as Nana told PPTV. “The singer must have seen it too, so he yelled ‘fire’ and threw the mic away.”
Footage of the aftermath showed how the blaze had turned the club’s interior into a blackened wreckage, with the charred metal frames of furniture strewn among the ash.
Police are investigating the presence of fire escapes in the one-story building, and engineers are inspecting the structure, fearing it may collapse.
Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda told reporters it appeared Mountain B was operating “without permission” to operate as an entertainment venue.
Sompong Chingduang, deputy commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, said the owner was being investigated for apparently changing the location from a restaurant to a nightclub without permission.
Concerns have long been raised about Thailand’s lax approach to health and safety regulations, especially in its myriad bars and nightclubs.
A massive inferno erupted at a New Year’s Eve party at Bangkok’s posh Santika club in 2009, killing 67 people and injuring more than 200.
Santika’s owner was jailed for three years over the blaze, which started when fireworks were set off as a rock band called Burn played on stage.
In 2016, a night fire in a dormitory of a Christian elementary school in northern Thailand.
More recently, four people were killed in a fire caused by a power outage at a club on the resort island of Phuket, a magnet for foreign tourists, in 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.