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Happy Land nightclub fire in 1990 left 87 dead

The Bronx fire that killed 19 people on Sunday was the deadliest fire in New York City since 1990, when a fire at a Bronx nightclub left 87 people dead.

The fire, which was started by an arsonist after fighting with his girlfriend, occurred at the Happy Land Social Club, an unlicensed club that lacked sprinklers, fire alarms and emergency exits. It had been ordered to close for fire hazards and building code violations 16 months before the fire, but it continued to operate. The nightclub was on the second floor of a dilapidated building and was crowded with mostly Honduran immigrants celebrating carnival.

The arsonist Julio Gonzalez, a Cuban refugee, had argued with his girlfriend every now and then about leaving his locker room job at the club, before a bouncer kicked him out around 3 a.m. . He walked three blocks to a gas station and filled a gallon container with $ 1 gasoline from an attendant there.

At around 3:30 a.m., he returned to the club, splashed gasoline at the bottom of the stairs and set it on fire, cutting the only open door and filling the club with smoke. As the fire grew, he returned home.

It was one of the worst mass murders in US history. Most of the people at the club suffocated from the smoke, and only six people survived, including Mr. Gonzalez’s girlfriend. She told the police about her argument with him, and when the police arrived at her apartment, he confessed. “I got angry, the devil grabbed me and I set it on fire,” he told detectives.

It was New York City’s deadliest fire since the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911, which occurred 79 years to the day before the Happy Land fire. After the Happy Land fire, the city stepped up its investigations into illegal clubs.

Mr Gonzalez was convicted the following year and was sentenced to 87 concurrent prison terms ranging from 25 years to life. After serving 25 years in prison, he died in 2016 at age 61 in a hospital in upstate New York, where he was released from prison after an apparent heart attack.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement