Remember the 1996 Ozone Disco fire?

Gwen De La Cruz
Remember the 1996 Ozone Disco fire?
The fire that killed 162 people in Quezon City 21 years ago is considered the worst club fire in the Philippines and seventh in the world

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – What was supposed to be a fun night for most students and some professionals who went to Ozone Disco in Quezon City 21 years ago, turned out to be the greatest tragedy of their lives.

It was on a Monday night of March 18, 1996, when most students were celebrating the end of their classes, that Ozone Disco Club offered a 50% discount promo for guests.

But for Jhunie Mallari, a dancer and a regular customer of the disco back then, it was supposed to be a normal party with his cousin and dance group.

It was indeed an unusual night as the disco club was jam-packed. There were more than 300 people there, when the room could only accommodate about a hundred.

SURVIVOR. Jhunie Mallari is among the 93 survivors of the Ozone Disco Fire. Photo by Gwen de la Cruz/Rappler

He was on a ledge just in front of the DJ’s booth dancing along with his friends, unaware of the tragedy that was about to happen.

Shortly before midnight, there was a spark at the booth. Then a fire broke and spread through the ceiling. 

While some people thought it was part of the disco’s “special effects”, Mallari already knew something was wrong.

Someone shouted there was a fire. Then there was commotion.

He jumped and rushed towards the door, which was already full of people trying to get out of the room.

The fire engulfed the whole room really fast, he said. And as people tried pushing their way through the door, the harder it was to get out because the door could only be opened inwards.

Nakikipagsiksikan ako. Hanggang sa hindi ko na kaya, huminto na kami kasi hindi na… trapped na kami,” he said. (I pushed myself through the thick crowd until I couldn’t anymore. We stopped because we were already trapped.)

After several tries, he reached the door, but was already too weak. Around him were his co-dancers, lying on the floor, not breathing. He remembered closing his eyes and giving up. 

“Lord, kayo na pong bahala,” he prayed. (Lord, everything’s up to you.)

Then just like a miracle, he said, he felt something cold in his arms. “Pagchill nito [mga balikat ko], biglang parang nahampas ko yung handle ng pintuan,” (When I felt something cold in my ams, it felt like I hit the door handle.)

He was able to get out of the room.

He survived, his body suffering from third-degree burns. He lost an ear and 16 friends.

What were the factors?

The tragedy is the worst club fire in the Philippines and seventh in the world, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

According to Col. Sammy Tadeo, one of the first investigators of the incident, the following were among the factors that led to the death of 162 people.

MEMORIES. Some of the survivors gather in front of the former Ozone Disco Club for the 19th anniversary of the tragedy on March 18, 2015. Photo by Gwen de la Cruz/Rappler

Swing-in door

For safety purposes, the law requires establishments to have doors that can be opened both inward and outward. The disco room however, only had one door that could be opened inward. 

When people realized that there was a fire, they all headed towards the door as they pushed their way out, making it impossible for them to open it.

There were also two more doors they had to pass through before they could get out of the builidng.

Lack of fire exit

The disco club had no fire exit. The door which was supposed to serve as the fire exit was blocked by the establishment beside it.


Since March is when schools usually end, the club announced a discount promo. According to Tadeo, more than 300 people, mostly teenagers, were in the disco when it could hold only around 100 people.


VICTIMS. A relative of one of the victims of the tragedy offers candles for her departed loved one. Photo by Gwen de la Cruz/Rappler

Last November 2014, 18 years after the tragedy, 6 Quezon City public officials and two board members of the club were found guilty of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. They were sentenced to 6-10 years of jail and were barred from holding public office. (READ: Ozone disco tragedy: Court convicts 7 ex-QC officials)

The court ruled that the former officials had connived with the private respondents to secure a building permit for the renovation of Ozone Disco.

A week before the 19th anniversary of the tragedy, the Ozone Disco building was demolished, residents near the area said. But for Mallari and the 92 survivors, some of whom have already died, the memories – the physical and emotional pains that took years to heal – will always be remembered. –

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