The firework show went disastrously wrong at about 11:15 p.m. (2015 GMT) filling the Lame Horse nightclub in the center of Perm, a city 1,150 km (720 miles) east of Moscow, with toxic smoke and sowing panic among clubbers.
“The latest figures are 101 dead and 134 hospitalized,” a spokeswoman from the Emergencies Ministry said by telephone. “About half of the injured are in a serious condition due to smoke inhalation.”
A Reuters witness said dozens of charred bodies were piled on the pavement outside the club as medics moved the injured into ambulances. Blood-covered women in evening clothes lay on stretchers as scores of policemen swarmed around.
A stray firework sparked the fire during a stage show celebrating the club’s eighth anniversary, officials were quoted as saying by local media. More than 200 people were in the club at the time, officials said.
Wicker coverings on the walls of the 500 square meter (5400 square ft) club burst into flames, prompting panic as clubbers rushed to get out.
The fire follows a bombing last Friday which killed 26 and injured more than 100 on a train traveling between Moscow and St Petersburg, for which Chechen Islamist militants claimed responsibility.
That blast stoked fears that Russia could face a nationwide bombing campaign, but Russian officials played down any links between the train attack and Friday’s nightclub disaster.
“We are not talking about a terrorist attack,” Oleg Chirkunov, the governor of Perm region, told Russia’s state Vesti-24 television channel.
Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, said they found no trace of explosives at the scene and detectives said they did not suspect a bomb attack.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the formation of a government commission to deal with the incident. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sent Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to the scene to coordinate rescue efforts.
The Prosecutor General’s main detective unit said it had opened a criminal case over suspected breaches of safety regulations at the club.
“I’ve just spoken to a friend who was there,” said a posting on popular forum www.teron.ru, which serves Perm, a city of 1.2 million near the Ural mountains.
“He says there was no blast, everything flared up from the fireworks. Many people were cut off from the exit and suffocated as a result,” the posting said.
Officials have in the past blamed poor fire safety standards for high death tolls in fires at orphanages, hospitals and other institutions, but Friday’s fire was one of Russia’s most deadly in recent years. –Reuters