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47 Killed in Venezuela  Nightclub Fire

In Venezuela, 47 people have died in a nightclub fire in downtown Caracas. Eight people were taken to hospitals with moderate-to-severe burns, while 20 others were treated at the scene.

The fire broke out in the La Goajira bar and dance club, located not far from parliament and the presidential palace, in the rundown heart of old Caracas. Officials say there were 300-400 people in the basement club at the time.

Caracas Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno said firefighters were on the scene quickly, but the fire had already taken hold. He said 80 percent of those who died were overcome by the dense, toxic smoke.

The smoke spread to two small hotels in the same building, causing considerable panic.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire. They are looking at the possibility of an electrical short-circuit or a carelessly tossed cigarette. Mr. Briceno said the blaze might also have originated in the kitchen.

The number of people in the La Goajira at the time of the incident almost certainly exceeded the legal limit. Firefighters say owners of bars and clubs, not only in central Caracas, but also in the wealthier eastern districts, often ignore the regulations.

This was the second major incident in central Caracas in just a few weeks. In mid-November, an explosion at an illegal fireworks stall just a few blocks from the Goajira club killed three people and injured many more.

The political crisis currently afflicting Venezuela has led to tensions and acts of violence, but there is no suggestion of any political dimension to the La Goajira fire.