The Six Flags Haunted Castle Disaster | A Short Documentary | Fascinating HorrorApr 29, 2022
On May 11, 1984, a fire started inside the Haunted Castle attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey. The flames spread quickly, feeding on flammable building materials and decorations. There were around 30 guests inside the attraction when the flames took hold... almost a third of whom did not make it out alive. The Haunted Castle was an attraction full of spooky themes. Guests moved through a series of narrow, dimly lit hallways, enjoying frequent scares along the way. These were provided by special effects, including strobe lights and recorded sounds, as well as live costumed actors jumping from hidden alcoves.
While the theme looked like a crooked
castle, the attraction was actually built from 16 interconnected truck trailers. These were arranged in a symmetrical configuration with eight on each side. Each set of eight trailers contained a more or less identical maze of hallways. When the park was quiet, only one side was open, but both sides could operate at once when the park was busy. There was also a central trailer that served as a control room and dressing room for the live actors. On the afternoon of May 11, 1984, only one side of the attraction was open. Guests were filtering in at a steady pace when,
shortly before 6:30 p.m., a small fire started.
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This spread quickly. The trailers were made of aluminum, but were filled with flammable materials, including plywood partition walls, cloth and paper coverings on most surfaces, wood and foam struts, and foam padding on some walls. About 30 people were inside when the fire started. The rapid spread of flames and smoke, combined with the Haunted Castle's deliberately confusing layout, made it difficult for guests to evacuate. A guest who managed to escape noted that he had stumbled, stumbled, and bounced off the walls as he fled, and that his decision to leave had been delayed because he, upon seeing flames and smoke for the first time, mistook them for another effect. special. .
Fire and rescue services were called immediately, and arrived on the scene within minutes... but the fire was so ferocious that the affected side of the ride was virtually destroyed by the time they got it under control. For a brief time, it was thought that all patrons had been successfully evacuated, but this notion was disproved when eight bodies were discovered in the rubble, most of them in the same narrow hallway. Some of them suffered burns so severe that they were initially mistaken for burnt Enchanted Castle-themed mannequins. The eight victims were all from the same group of friends.
Among the dead were 18-year-old Nicola Caiazza, 17-year-old Joseph Beyroutey, 15-year-old Tina Genovese, 18-year-old Eric Rodriguez, 17-year-old Samuel Valentin and 17-year-old Lenny Ruiz. José Carrión, 17 years old, and Christopher Harrison, 17 years old. The park was briefly closed while an investigation was conducted. The initial cause of the fire was soon identified: a 13-year-old survivor named Joey Irica testified that he had seen another teenager using the flame of a lighter to find his way through a dark part of the maze. As he did so, Irica testified, the older boy had accidentally moved the flame too close to a torn piece of foam hanging from a foam-lined wall, causing it to ignite.
The boy with the lighter was never identified. While using an open flame in such a small space is a foolish action, investigators pointed out that he was not to blame for the
disaster. Instead, blame was placed on park management and a number of state-level inspection agencies. These groups were alleged to have allowed the Haunted Castle to operate without proper security systems and in increasingly dangerous conditions year after year. For example, no working sprinkler systems or smoke alarms were installed inside the attraction. Both had been recommended by fire safety consultants, but were not actually required, as the Haunted Castle was considered a temporary structure and building codes of the time did not require smoke alarms or sprinkler systems within temporary structures. .
Of course, the Haunted Castle had been standing for almost five years at the time of the
disaster, which stretches the definition of "temporary" a bit. Additionally, it was revealed that many of the emergency exit lights and other fixtures and fittings within the maze were in poor condition at the time of the disaster. Employees noticed that bulbs were missing or broken in many emergency lights, and that the foam padding on the wall where the fire had started was broken and exposed when it should have been carefully sealed. Managers on duty also reported that guests had been seen using matches and lighters to light their way on several occasions in the past, but that nothing had been done to address this issue.
When staff working at the Enchanted Castle raised these issues with senior management, they ignored them, even when they staged a strike to protest the poor maintenance of the attraction in 1983. That same year, an anonymous employee had filled out a form. for reporting security breaches with the words "Forget it. Too many to mention." Despite this history of poor maintenance and lack of safety measures, both the park and its parent company were cleared of any wrongdoing. When the matter came to court, after much deliberation, jurors placed the blame on Jackson Township officials, who repeatedly allowed the
castleto "fall through the cracks" of the fire code.
The park had followed the regulations that the law required it to follow...but the law simply had not been demanding enough. Eight civil lawsuits were filed against the park, seven of which were settled out of court for $2.5 million each. The remaining lawsuit went to trial and the family involved ultimately received a significantly smaller sum. Multiple updates were made to New Jersey's fire safety codes after the disaster, particularly with respect to any structures like the Haunted Castle that were intended to confuse or disorient visitors. The new regulations required that all such structures be equipped with adequate fire detection systems and that when a fire alarm was activated the lights would be turned on automatically and confusing sound effects and music would be automatically muted.
Other states quickly adopted New Jersey's rules, sparking a revolution in scare attraction safety across the United States. Despite this, several attractions in New Jersey suffered as a result of the disaster and many closed. Six Glags Great Adventure itself nearly closed in 1987, in part due to negative coverage of the fire. He was eventually able to recover and move on, and is still functioning today. The building (or more accurately, the set of trailers) that housed the Enchanted Castle has long been removed. It has been replaced by a new attraction: the Cyborg Cyber Spin. There is no memorial or lasting sign of the attraction that was there in 1984, but we can safely say that the Haunted Castle will not be forgotten.
It remains a powerful specter for the families of those lost in the fire and a dire warning to lawmakers and fire safety officials about the dangers of letting things slip away.
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