RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – A fire swept through the training center and lodgings of Rio de Janeiro soccer club Flamengo on Friday, killing 10 people, including members of the club’s youth side, firefighters and news reports said.
At least three youths aged 14 and 15 were injured in the blaze. All three were taken to the hospital, one of them reportedly in a serious condition.
Firefighters said they arrived at the Ninho do Urubu, a state-of-the-art training center that was expanded and opened only two months ago, shortly after 5 a.m. (0700 GMT) to find the building engulfed in flames.
Some people had managed to escape, but the ferocity of the blaze prevented firefighters from entering the facility.
“We managed to rescue the victims that were outside,” fire service Lieutentant Colonel Douglas Henaut told reporters. “The place was completely overtaken by fire. As much as we tried to get inside and find people still alive that wasn’t (possible) … We only found bodies inside.”
“We can’t tell you the cause of the fire, that needs to be investigated,” he added.
One young player said the fire started in his room.
“The air conditioner caught fire, and I ran out,” said Felipe Cardoso, a midfielder with the under-17 side. “Thank God I managed to run and I’m still alive.”
O Globo newspaper reported the building did not have the correct permits but did not cite sources.
One of the deceased was identified as Christian Esmerio, a 15-year-old goalkeeper.
“I had the pleasure of knowing you, unfortunately an accident interrupted your dream,” Gabriel Batista, a senior goalkeeper at the club, wrote on Instagram.
EXPANDED NEW FACILITY
After years of financial difficulties, Flamengo last year spent 23 million reais ($6.2 million) to expand the Ninho do Urubu training ground.
In addition to accommodation for young players, the facilities include several pitches, an aquatic park, a gym, a medical center and a mini-stadium.
The Ninho do Urubu, or Vulture’s Nest, is so called because the club’s symbol is a vulture.
Vinicius Junior, the teenage Real Madrid forward who trained at the facility before joining the Spanish giants last year, tweeted his condolences.
“What sad News! Praying for everyone! Strength, strength, strength,” he wrote.
The fire follows days of heavy rains that hit the city and claimed at least six lives. The rains led Flamengo to close parts of its social club and cancel regular training sessions it organizes for children.
Flamengo, the alma mater of players such as Zico, Junior and Leonardo, is one of the best-supported clubs in Brazil and is famous around the world. Known by fans as the Red-and-Black, they won the Copa Libertadores, South America’s version of the Champions League, in 1981 and lifted the Intercontinental Cup a few months later.
Zico, who was outside Brazil, wrote on Instagram: “What a shock getting this news here on the other side of the world.” “May the Red-and-Black nation have strength and faith to get through this moment,” the former Brazil midfielder wrote.
Flamengo made no official statement other than to tweet that it was in mourning.
But teams from around the world, including Rio rivals Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco da Gama, tweeted their solidarity and offered help that included psychologists and social workers.
Officials postponed Saturday’s two semifinals of the Guanabara Cup, one of which was between Flamengo and Fluminense at the famous Maracana stadium, host of the 2014 World Cup final.
Reporting by Debora Moreira and Andrew Downie; Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Jonathan Oatis