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The Casino

is on fire

Montreux Celebration

Montreux musical history in 1971


The Montreux Casino fire in 1971

Thanks to numerous testimonies, press articles and archives, we will explain here what really happened Saturday December 4th, 1971 in Montreux. You will find a story from the point of view of Frank Zappa and Deep Purple An exclusive video of the fire, shot the day of the tragedy can also be found at the bottom of this article.

We are in the middle of the afternoon at the Montreux Casino, The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa's band, performs as part of the super POP Festival in front of an audience of 2'000 to 2'500 people seated and crowded in the "Sablier" room. After a few notes of the first song, a guy sends an alarm rocket used in the navy for boat distress signals.

A witness, who was standing not far away from him, later told the authorities : "He was holding an object in his hand, with the other it seems like he was pulling a string that triggered the release of the "thing": the first shot crossed the room. One of his neighbours pointed out to him sharply that he was going to set the room on fire. The troublemaker replied with a Greek or Yugoslav accent: "No dont worry it will be fine".

It is precisely 4:15pm, in the middle of the song "King Kong", the guy recurs once again and the hazardous trajectory makes the firecracker fall into one of the screens suspended from the ceiling in geometric shape in a reed tray and which diffuses light.

The fire broke out immediately and the band stopped their concert. Frank Zappa then announced to a stunned audience: "Please remain calm. We have to get out of here. There's a fire, so we're all going to leave the place."

Witnesses then saw the fire start in an electrical suspension canvas at the back of the room, which in the early hours of the fire appeared to be a short circuit. A person arrives with a fire extinguisher and tries to control the fire in vain due to lack of pressure.

The alarm is officially given to the emergency services at 4:22pm. With sirens screaming, dozens of firemen rushed to the Casino. Shortly afterwards, and faced with the scale of the ever-increasing disaster, the fire brigades of the neighbouring towns of La Tour-de-Peilz, Vevey and Villeneuve, as well as a group from the permanent brigade in Lausanne, arrived as reinforcements.

At around 4.45pm, the authorities even activated the general warning siren, used in the event of war or natural disaster, which then began to scream in Montreux!

Despite the speed and violence of the fire, only three minor injuries were reported, with no casualties. The injuries were caused when individuals jumped out of windows or cut themselves on broken glass by breaking the windows. The wounded were quickly taken care of by the five ambulances that had been dispatched to the scene.

This assessment, which is almost miraculous, is due above all to the promptness of the evacuation, which did not last more than three and a half minutes.

In total, approximately 150 firefighters were involved in the fight against the fire. 22 nozzles and 4 firefighter ladders were used. The water network of the city of Montreux has been heavily used and thanks to the four motor pumps that drew water from the lake.

While police had cleared the area around the Casino, the fire brigade was able to take control of the incident around 7pm, but the fire continued to rage inside the building, which was largely destroyed.

In short, it is the largest fire that the Cantonal Fire Department has had to deal with since its creation.

Little anectode, many coats have remained in the Casino's cloakroom and have never been claimed for good reason ! The police found complete sets of drugs of all kinds in their pockets...

It should also be noted that, on the same day, a few hours apart, the Charleston Hotel in Leysin, a small village a few kilometers from Montreux, also burned down.

December 18, 1971, the suspect is identified

It was Zdenek Spicka, born on 4 November 1949, a Czech refugee who had granted himself the right of asylum in Switzerland. He was previously living in a small hippie community in a villa near Epalinges. It should be noted that this guy has already been deported from Sweden for drug dealings.

He was immediately placed under arrest by the Judge of Vevey.

According to police information, he fled the night of the fire after shaving his mustache and beard. According to his Czech compatriots, the suspect feared being lynched by the crowd. It's understandable as one can assume that he was frightened by the consequences of his act, probably not having acted with the intention of causing a fire.

As for the gun that was used, it was a weapon that could be obtained without special authorization in department stores at the time. It was an Italian-made alarm pistol, to which a rocket launcher can be adapted, usually used to launch distress signals.

On December 20, 1972, the trial

The judgment was handed down shortly before noon, without the presence of the main person concerned, the Vevey court found Spicka Zdenek guilty of arson and sentenced him to the sentence proposed by the representative of the Public Prosecutor's Office, i.e. five years' imprisonment and expulsion from the Swiss Confederation territory.

The reimbursement of legal costs fixed at 2867 swiss francs will also have to be reimbursed by Zdenek Spicka. A derisory compensation for Montreusians, because the construction of a new Casino was already around 24 million at that time !

We are now in 2019, still without any news from Zdenek Spicka (Zdeněk Špička)!

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