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Reconstructing the Station Nightclub Fire: Computer Modeling of the Fire Growth and Spread



Nelson P. Bryner, Daniel M. Madrzykowski, William L. Grosshandler


On February 20, 2003, during a band performance, pyrotechnics ignited foam insulation lining the walls and ceiling of the platform that was being used as a stage in The Station Nightclub, Rhode Island, USA. The fire spread quickly along the foam lined walls and ceiling, smoke emerged from the exit doorways in less than one minute, smoke dropped quickly to near the dance floor, and flames broke through the roof in less than five minutes. One hundred people lost their lives in the fire and hundreds were injured. As part of its technical investigation of the fire, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) utilized a computer fire model to reconstruct the fire growth and spread through the entire nightclub. Input data for the fire model were developed from a wide range of sources including pre- and post-fire photographs, site visits, floor plan drawings, small scale material testing, and real-scale mockup experiments. A commercial television station's video tape of the nightclub on the night of the fire provided information on the start and spread of the fire that was almost unprecedented in fire forensics. The model simulation of the entire nightclub was consistent with the video record during the early stages of fire development. The reconstruction predicted quick fire growth due to the burning of the convoluted polyurethane foam and the rapid growth led to rapid production of smoke, high temperatures, and low oxygen levels throughout most of the simulated nightclub. The fire model predicted that many of the occupants had less than 90 seconds after ignition to exit the structure. Although the nightclub was not equipped with automatic water sprinklers, a second simulation included sprinklers. For a sprinklered nightclub, examination of the predicted temperature and the oxygen volume fractions shows tenable conditions would have existed throughout the duration of the simulation (300 s), as the fire was extinguished approximately 114 seconds after ignition. Based on the results of the model and the findings of the investigation, NIST made a number of recommendations that are aimed at improving life safety in nightclubs.
Interflam 2007 (Interflam '07) International Interflam Conference 11th Proceedings September 3-5 2007
Publisher Info
London, England, -1


fire investigations, building fires, computer models, fire growth, fire spread, fire models, wooden structures, material properties, simulation, smoke spread, heat release rate, temeprature, oxygen, sprinklers, NFPA 13, nightclubs, nightclubs


Bryner, N. , Madrzykowski, D. and Grosshandler, W. (2007), Reconstructing the Station Nightclub Fire: Computer Modeling of the Fire Growth and Spread, London, England, -1, [online], (Accessed July 25, 2024)


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Created September 1, 2007, Updated February 19, 2017