The Rev. Joseph J. Miller, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, was incorrectly quoted in yesterday's Washington Post as saying that firemen "worked like hell" to resuscitate victims of the Cinema Follies fire.
At least five men were killed and as many as seven others injured, several seriously, in an accidental explosion and fire last evening at a Southeast Washington club for homosexuals.
The blaze, which apparently was caused by the explosion of either cleaning equipment or a gas heater, broke out about 5 p.m. at the Cinema Follies, 37 L St. SE. The flames blocked the front door and firemen had to smash through a rear door locked from the outside on the second floor to reach the unconscious victims inside.
Most of the victims appeared to have choked on billowing black smoke that filled the interior of the two-story brick building, where about a dozen persons were watching "all male, X-rated" films on the second floor.
On the gravel roof of an adjoining one-story building, teams of firemen worked desperately over the prostrate bodies of the victims trying to resuscitate them.
"The firemen did a terrific job," said the Rev. Joseph J. Miller, pastor of the nearby St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church. "They worked like hell."
The victims were not immediately identified. Father Miller, who gave the last rites of the Catholic Church to at least eight of the unconscious persons, said all were men, some black, some white and most were in their late 30s and 40s.
None of the victims he saw appeared to have been burned, Father Miller said. He believed they all were apparently felled by smoke inhalation.
The victims along with two injured firemen were taken to four hospitals here last night. Several were reported in either critical or serious condition.
Describing the blast and fire as an "industrial accident," Insp. Bryant Hopkins, of the Metropolitan police force, said the tragedy apparently was caused by the use of cleaning equipment in a foyer of the building.
According to Hopkins, Martin Crowe, 26, of Baltimore, was using electrically powered cleaning equipment and a solution of two cleaning compounds near a gas heater just before the fire and explosion broke out.
Suddenly, Hopkins said, the man heard a muffled explosion and saw flames coming from a wall nearby. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried unsuccessfully to douse the flames. Then, said Hopkins, Crowe ran outside to his car to get a second extinguisher.
"I ran back to the building and there was another explosion just as I was about to reach the door," Crowe said. "It blew the door closed."
Unable to enter that way, he continued, "I ran around the back to try to see whether there was a way to get into the garage (behind the club)."
But, he added, "I couldn't get up on the (garage) roof," which gives access to a second-floor door of the club.
Police offered two theories for the cause of the blast and fire: one is that natural gas which may have leaked from the heater could have been ignited by a spark, from the cleaning machine.
The other is that a spark from the machine may have ignited the cleaning compounds. It was speculated that a spark might have been produced by a short circuit in the machine.
There was some question last night about the operation of the second-floor door that was the only exit not blocked by flames. Crowe, who had been cleaning the rug when the fire broke out, said that door is locked from the outside by a key.
However, he said, "You can open it from the inside. There's a safety bolt, I don't know why those people couldn't get out. Maybe because it was the heavy black smoke, they couldn't find the lock."
Of the ten victims brought out of the club, all but one were found in the 50-seat second floor theater. One was found halfway down the stairs between the theater and the ground floor.
In addition to the ten persons taken from the club, five of whom were reported dead by 8 p.m., the casualties included two injured firemen.
According to Dr. Franklin E. Kamony, a spokesman for the homosexual community here, Cinema Follies is operated "essentially as part of the gay community" for the screening of x-rated male films.
Describing the club as a converted warehouse, Kameny said it has been in operating here for about two years, on a membership basis. Members pay a fee to join, receive a card which is displayed when entering and pay to see each film he said.
Carl Aleshire, who said he worked in the club here last summer, described it as one of a chain of five clubs operating here and in Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Aleshire, who said in a telephone interview that he was manager of the Pittsburgh club, said the chain has about 40,000 members nationwide, with more than half of them in the Washington area.
Aleshire identified the principal manager of the five club chain as Bill Oates of Washington. Further identification could not be obtained and Oates could not be reached for comment.
A handlettered sign on the outside of the brown-painted club building said: "Celebrating Our Second Anniversary The Washington Premier of Harley's Angels - All Male X-rated Color - Free Buffet Dinner Sunday Oct. 23."
The neighborhood immediately surrounding the club is sparsely populated, and includes commercial and light industrial buildings. The club is located between South Capitol Street and Half Street SE, and almost a mile due south of the U.S. Capitol.