Escape room fire: Poland closes 13 venues after five teenagers die

People lay flowers and candles at the site of the Escape Room fire tragedy in Koszalin, Poland, on 6 January 2019Image copyright EPA
Image caption People in Koszalin held a vigil on Sunday for the five girls who died

Thirteen escape rooms have been closed in Poland after a fire in one of the venues killed five teenage girls.

An owner of the facility has been charged with creating a fire hazard that led to the blaze on Friday.

The girls died after the fire broke out while they were playing in a room at a venue in the northern city of Koszalin.

In the game popular around the world, players are locked in a room and given a set amount of time to solve a series of riddles to get out.

The venue owner, who was arrested on Sunday, has been charged with “creating the danger of a fire in the escape room and with unintentionally causing the death of people in a fire”, a spokesman for the Koszalin district prosecutor is quoted as saying by the Polish PAP news agency.

The man also neglected to ensure that the room had escape routes, he said.

The accused man has denied any negligence or wrongdoing, his lawyers say.

A 25-year-old man was also seriously injured in the blaze which started at around 17:00 local time (16:00 GMT) on Friday.

Leaking gas cylinders are believed to have caused the blaze in the small room which measured 7.3 sq m (78 sq ft).

The girls, all aged 15, were visiting the attraction in Koszalin to celebrate a birthday.

What are escape rooms?

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Media captionZoltan Kovacs takes you behind the scenes at a Trap escape game

Participants are generally locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles in order to get out.

The industry has grown rapidly in recent years.

Escape games are thought to have begun in Japan about a decade ago, and one in Hungary, which opened in 2011, is believed to have been the first in Europe.

Budapest is one of the world’s hubs for the genre, and it is estimated there are around 1,000 in Poland.

In the UK, the number of escape rooms soared from just seven in 2013 to more than 1,000 as of last year.

What is being done after the tragedy?

The authorities have ordered that all escape rooms around the country now be checked to ensure they meet safety standards.

Firefighters inspected nearly 200 facilities across Poland over the weekend. They said more than 100 were found to be unsafe and 13 were immediately shut down.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed on Sunday to close escape rooms that failed to meet safety standards.

He also announced a review of more than 1,000 escape rooms or related facilities in Poland to determine whether new regulations were needed.

Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski said on Sunday Poland would impose harsh fines and sanctions on business owners whose premises did not comply with health and safety standards.

He also urged parents to report potential safety violations at venues.

What is thought to have happened?

Leaking gas cylinders used to heat the building started a fire in the adjacent waiting room, a prosecutor said.

Flames and toxic smoke spread quickly, and firefighters – responding to an emergency call – used specialised equipment to break in, but it was already too late.

The teenagers are believed to have died of asphyxiation. Their funerals are due to be held on Thursday.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said the fire was an “appalling tragedy”.

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