95 die in Rhode Island concert fire. Stage pyrotechnics at a Great White show set a Rhode Island club ablaze, killing at least 95 and injuring hundreds

By Gary Susman
Updated February 21, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The nightclub fire that killed at least 95 people and injured more than 160 others at a concert by ’80s hair-metal band Great White on Thursday night apparently started when pyrotechnics went off on stage during the very first song, shooting sparks into the foam soundproofing behind the stage at the Station, a nightclub outside Providence, R.I. Among those still missing is guitarist Ty Longley. The band has spent the past month on a club tour, and club owners have said they didn’t know the band planned to use pyrotechnics, and that such stage fireworks in small spaces were accidents waiting to happen.

”No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given,” the attorney representing Station owners Michael and Jeffrey Derderian said in a statement Friday. That contradicts earlier comments made by lead singer Jack Russell, who told reporters at the scene of the fire that the club had granted Great White permission for the stage fireworks. ”Obviously there was some sort of miscommunication,” Russell told CNN on Friday.

The Smoking Gun website posted the technical specifications portion of the band’s touring contract, which makes no mention of pyrotechnics. The group played last Friday at the Stone Pony, the Asbury Park, N.J., club made famous by Bruce Springsteen, whose owner told The Smoking Gun that he also ”had no idea” that pyrotechnics would be part of the show and accused the band of putting the ”lives of a lot of people in danger.”

Great White, best known for ’80s hits like ”Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” now contains only Russell and guitarist Mark Kendall from the band’s heyday. The group’s management issued a statement, saying, ”Our thoughts and prayers are with those that have passed away, those that are suffering and to the families and friends thereof. There has been a tragic accident affecting a lot of people in a terrible way. We are deeply saddened as to what has happened.”