Ten people have been killed after a fire tore through the sleeping quarters of a development league for one of Brazil’s biggest football clubs yesterday.
Firefighters were called in just after 5am local time to battle a blaze at the sprawling Ninho de Urubu training ground of the Flamengo soccer club in Rio de Janeiro’s western region, a fire official told reporters.
The victims have not been named but are said to include young players staying at the training ground.
Three teenagers were also injured, one of them seriously.
The cause of the blaze is being investigated, but one young player said the fire started in an air conditioner in his room.
“The air conditioner caught fire, and I ran out,” said Felipe Cardoso, a player with the under-17 side. “Thank God I managed to run and I’m still alive.”
“We are distraught,” Flamengo President Rodolfo Landim said outside the complex, where friends, fans and neighbours gathered, some forming a circle to pray. “This is the worst tragedy to happen to the club in its 123 years.”
He added: “The most important thing right now is to minimize the suffering of these families.”
Beatriz Busch, the public health secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, said two of the injured were in stable condition and one was in critical condition.
“Those who died were athletes,” she said, adding that their identities had not been released and the cause of the fire was unknown.
“Flamengo is in mourning” the team posted on its Twitter account.
Brazil football legend Pelé described the club as “a place where young people pursue their dreams”.
“It’s a very sad day for Brazilian football,” he tweeted. Former Brazil star Ronaldinho offered his condolences for the “terrible tragedy” in a tweet yesterday morning. He published the club’s crest in black-and-white alongside the message.
It was reported that the area had been hit by severe storms and heavy rain in recent days and the weather may have left the facility without water or electricity when the fire struck.
The training ground - named the “Vulture’s Nest” after the club’s symbol - reportedly underwent a major expansion last year, with the club spending £4.8m on new facilities.
After the fire, family members, friends and neighbours were gathering outside in hopes of getting information. Jefferson Rodrigues, who runs a small inn near the club, stold reporters he had reached a 15-year-old player at the club.
“I am very happy. I just spoke to Caix Suarez and he is alive,” said Rodrigues, adding that the youth told him he ran when he saw the flames in the morning. Joao Pedro da Cruz, a 16-year-old player in the Flamengo youth league, told G1 news portal that he decided not to stay the night at the facility Thursday because the team wasn’t going to train yesterday.
“The majority of them [the team] stayed, my friends stayed [at the facility],” he said.
Flamengo have a huge following across Brazil, with a recent poll suggesting they are first team for 32.5 million Brazilians - a following built up in the 1980s when they won four Brazilian titles and the Copa Libertadores.
The club has also produced arguably one of the greatest all-time Brazilian players - Arthur Antunes “Zico” Coimbra, a member of the 1982 World Cup squad.
The club were due to play their rivals Fluminense on Saturday. The game has been postponed, and other clubs have expressed their condolences.
Real Madrid player Vinícius Júnior, who also played for Flamengo, tweeted a crying emoji, writing, “Such sad news. Pray for everyone.”