After the Fire A criminal investigation is under way in the wake of a fire that left at least 96 people dead at a Rhode Island nightclub. Owners of The Station say the band Great White, whose performance at the club included a pyrotechnics display, is responsible for the disaster, but investigators have yet to assign blame. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
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After the Fire

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After the Fire

After the Fire

Rhode Islanders Struggle to Cope with Club Disaster

After the Fire

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Sharon Wilson survived the fire at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I. Bandages cover the second- and third-degree burns on her arm. Chris Arnold, NPR News hide caption

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Chris Arnold, NPR News

Bob Tripe suffered burns while trying to pull his girlfriend, Sharon Wilson, out of the burning nightclub. Chris Arnold, NPR News hide caption

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Chris Arnold, NPR News

Fire crews comb through the charred remains of the nightclub. Chris Arnold, NPR News hide caption

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Chris Arnold, NPR News

Three days after a huge fire engulfed a nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., killing at least 96 people, townspeople are waiting for an official accounting of the dead and the missing. But in a community of 30,000, there are sure to be countless personal connections to the people who were lost.

The fire broke out shortly before midnight Thursday at a small, wood-frame club called The Station. It was caused by a pyrotechnics display at the start of a set by the 80s-era heavy metal band Great White.

Sharon Wilson was one of the survivors. NPR's Chris Arnold spoke with her as she sat in an easy chair in her living room, wincing in pain. A friend who's a nurse was changing the bandages on second- and third-degree burns on Wilson's arms. Wilson's boyfriend helped.

Wilson says she owes her life to her boyfriend, Bob Tripe, a six-foot-tall truck driver. When the fire broke out at the nightclub, the two of them were standing at the bar with a friend named Bonnie.

"He kept calling me but we got lost as we were going out because people in back of us kept pushing and pushing," says Wilson, who was trapped in the club's entranceway. "And I just got trampled and they were just stampeding over me. I was on the bottom."

Somehow in the chaos, the two were able to hear each other and Tripe fought his way back to grab hold of her arm.

Tripe's hands are now bandaged from the burns he received trying to reach in and pull people to safety.

"Not even within a minute of when he pulled me out, the building started to collapse," Wilson says. "And he went looking for [Bonnie] but we haven't found her yet."

Wilson says right now, they're getting some comfort from all the visits from friends and relatives. People are pulling together all over the small town of West Warwick.

As Arnold reports, the fire touches everybody's lives.

At the local thrift store, employees put their arms around a co-worker who has lost a friend. A deliveryman says he's just brought a pizza to an injured resident recovering at home.

And many are bracing themselves as the list of victims' names grows. In a town like this, people are likely to know someone on that list. And many are feeling like it could just as easily have been them.

Another accounting may come later. Rhode Island authorities have opened a criminal investigation. The initial focus is on the pyrotechnics display, on fire code issues, and on whether the club was over its maximum capacity.

"Of course people are wanting to know who to blame," says one resident. "Why did this happen?"