Rio de Janeiro, Jan 27 (IANS) A massive fire in a crowded nightclub in Brazil's university city of Santa Maria killed at least 245 people, Xinhua reported Sunday.
There was a party going on for college students in the "Kiss" nightclub in Santa Maria in Rio Grande do Sul state when the fire started around 2.30 a.m.
A band member performing on stage reportedly lit fireworks that caused the fire.
The fire spread very fast, with the room quickly filling with black smoke.
There was only one exit for the nightclub, which reportedly caused a stampede as the partygoers tried to escape.
Mayor Gerson da Rosa Ferreira said the deaths were caused by asphyxiation or trampling and that 500 people were in the nightclub when the fire broke out.
The nightclub, which can hold 2,000 people at a time, was popular among local youths and college students.
BBC said 15 bodies were found in the club's toilets where people had apparently sought refuge.
A firefighter told BBC he had never seen such a tragedy in his life, with the victims "so young".
A 23-year-old witness, Luana Santos Silva, told Brazil's Globo TV: "We looked up at the ceiling in front of the stage and it was catching fire. My sister grabbed me and dragged me out on the ground."
She said the exit was a "small door for lots of people to come out by".
Her 29-year-old sister, Aline Santos Silva, added: "We managed to see it in time and to get out quickly, before the smoke began to spread."
"The smoke spread really quickly, it didn't give enough time for people to get out. I think people started to feel unwell, and then they began to come out covered in black smoke stains."
Fire chief Guido de Melo said: "People started panicking and ended up treading on each other."
Santa Maria is located at the southern tip of Brazil near the borders with Argentina and Uruguay. It is a major university city with a population of around 250,000.
President Dilma Rousseff, attending a summit between the 27-member European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Chile, stopped her visit to return home.
She telephoned Rio Grande do Sul Governor Tarso Genro, offering federal aid for the tragedy at the nightclub.