Today in fire history: Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire kills 165

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on May 28, 2012

On Saturday, May 28, 1977, a disastrous fire occurred at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, which claimed the lives of 165 patrons and employees, and injured about 70 others.    When the fire occurred, roughly 2,500 people were at the club, with about half in the Cabaret Room.  The fire originated in the Zebra Room, a small, unoccupied function room on the opposite end of the club from the Cabaret Room, and burned for a considerable time before it was discovered.  The probable cause was determined to be electrical in nature; and combustible material in a concealed space in the ceiling was the material first ignited. 

When the fire was discovered, the staff unsuccessfully attempted to fight the fire before notifying the fire department or alerting occupants.  Most patrons were evacuated with the assistance of employees, however, by the time the Cabaret Room occupants became aware of the emergency, they did not have adequate time to escape.

NFPA’s investigation found several major factors contributing the large loss of life in this fire, including:

  • The fire in the Zebra Room developed for a considerable time before discovery.  The presence of concealed, combustible ceiling tile and wood materials used for supports provided a fuel supply for continued spread of the fire through the original ceiling and other concealed spaces.
  • The Beverly Hills Supper Club staff attempted to extinguish the fire before notifying the occupants to leave the building and before calling the fire department.  There was no evacuation plan establishing fire emergency procedures for the club, and employees were not schooled or drilled in duties that they were to perform in case of fire.
  • The number of people in the Cabaret Room far exceeded the number of occupants that the room could safely accommodate according to codes and standards in effect at the time.  Also, the number of occupants in the Beverly Hills Supper Club (total building) on the night of the fire exceeded by about double the number of people that the building could safely accommodate
  • The interior finish in the main north-south corridor exceeded the flame spread allowed for places of assembly in the Life Safety Code and contributed to the rapid spread of the fire from the Zebra Room to the Cabaret Room.
  • The Beverly Hills Supper Club was not provided with automatic sprinkler protection as required by codes in effect in Kentucky at the time of the fire.

NFPA members can download the full investigation report.