The Ycuá Bolaños supermarket fire was a disastrous fire that occurred on August 1, 2004 in Asunción, Paraguay. After the fire broke out, exits were locked to prevent people from stealing merchandise. The building also lacked adequate fire protection systems. Over 300 people were killed and around 500 were injured. The president of the supermarket company, as well as various employees, were later sentenced to prison terms for their actions during the fire.
The Ycuá Bolaños V supermarket, located in the capital city of Asunción, Paraguay, opened on December 7, 2001. The two-story building consisted of an underground parking garage on the lower level and a sales area and food court on the second story. Two separate mezzanines contained administrative offices and an extension of the food court.
According to the defence attorney of the building’s owner, the bakery and food court kitchen were not properly ventilated, which would cause smoke and gas to accumulate in the building. The structure also lacked a fire sprinkler system and the smoke detectors did not work.
The fire broke out on August 1, 2004, with two explosions on the first floor. The fire burned for seven hours before firefighters were able to extinguish it. The final death toll was 396, and over 500 injured. The cause was believed to be a faulty barbecue chimney that leaked hot flammable gases into the ceiling, which ignited.
Several survivors of the fire and volunteer firefighters alleged that, when the fire broke out, doors within the complex were deliberately closed under the direction of the owners, Juan Pío Paiva and his son, Víctor Daniel, trapping people inside, in order to prevent people from fleeing with merchandise without paying for it. The management of the shopping centre denied the charge. Paiva, his son and a security guard surrendered to the police and were formally charged.
A major issue was that the complex lacked emergency exits and efficient fire protection systems. The architect of the complex and several municipal public servants responsible for the overseeing of commercial buildings were prosecuted as well.
On December 5, 2006, Juan Pío Paiva, Víctor Daniel Paiva and the security guard were convicted of involuntary manslaughter with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The prosecution however was seeking a 25-years-in-prison term. As the verdict was read, angry survivors and family members of the deceased started a violent demonstration inside the court room, which later spread onto the streets of Asunción. The prosecution demanded a retrial.
On February 2, 2008, a new court ruled that the trio committed negligent homicide. Juan Pío Paiva, president of the company, received a sentence of 12 years in prison. His son Víctor Daniel Paiva, present at the start of the fire, was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Security guard Daniel Areco, who closed the doors, was condemned to 5 years in prison. Additionally, shareholder Humberto Casaccia, also present at the start of the fire, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for endangering people in the work place. Architect Bernardo Ismachowiez, who both designed and built the complex, spent two years in house arrest for “dangerous activities in construction”.