Flames ripped through a crowded community social hall at a New Year's Eve party early yesterday, killing at least 42 persons and injuring about 50 others, police reported.

Many of the victims were packed against a rear door as they fought in panic for the exits, police said.

Quebec Constable Guy Gode said police were holding an unidentified 21-year-old man, reportedly as a material witness. According to some reports, the young man had been showing off a new cigarette lighter shortly before fir branches decorating the walls burst into flame.

Gode said authorities had recovered 41 bodies from inside and around the demolished building. One more victim died in a hospital, he said.

An undetermined number of others were missing and presumed dead, according to police in this copper mining community of 3,000 about 300 miles north of Montreal.

Firemen from a station across the street pumped water on the blazing building, but were unable to contain the fire until four or five hours after it started.

Flames broke out at the Opemiska Club about 1:30 a.m., and the crowd of two to three hundred panicked and fled for the exits, which were jammed by the stampede, according to Sgt. Gilles Gagne.

Rescurers found bodies piled high near exits from the hall. "They opened a door at the back of the building, and there they were," said Constable Jocelyn Dahl.

The victims ranged in age from 16 to 70, said Gagne. Some of the injured "were burned all over their bodies and their hands and faces," he said.