A blaze engulfed a crowded movie theater Sunday killing...

TURIN, Italy -- A blaze engulfed a crowded movie theater Sunday killing at least 64 people, many of them teenagers trampled to death in a panic-stricken race to the exits, officials said.

Twenty victims were found dead of smoke inhalation, huddled in a balcony closet and bathroom which they apparently thought were stairwells, officials said. There were no fire exits on the second level, fire officials said.


At least 20 other people were reported injured.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately determined, but firefighters said it began about 6:30 p.m. on a first-floor corridor leading to the main gallery and quickly spread upwards, blocking escape from the balcony.

Police said arson had not been ruled out.

More than 60 firefighters wearing protective masks brought the fire in the central Statuto movie theater under control within an hour, with the help of a steady snow fall.

'Some of them died from smoke asphyxiation and the others were just trampled to death,' said fire department official Giuseppe Reolon.

'They all just followed each other into a blind alley in complete panic,' he said.

Theater manager Raimondo Capello, who said 'there was a huge violent burst of flame' that 'spread immediately,' was arrested on charges of negligent manslaughter.


Italian television reported there were insufficient fire exits in the theater.

'I tried, with some of my employees, to put the fire out with extinguishers, but it just wasn't possible,' Capello said. 'We immediately threw open the exit doors and tried to get as many people out as we could.'

Officials said about 400 people managed to escape from the smoke-filled theater, which had just begun showing the second matinee of the Frenchfilm 'La Capra' when the blaze began.

'There was complete panic,' a fire department official said.

Hundreds of parents of children who were at the theater gathered outside where police placed 64 recovered bodies on the sidewalk for identification.

Firefighters said many of the victims were trampled to death in the panic to leave the theater, which quickly became enveloped by dense and acrid smoke. They said other victims died of smoke asphyxiation.

Police said identification of all the bodies will be 'a slow and lengthy process' since many of the victims were burned beyond recognition. They said identity papers were also burned along with the victims' clothing.

The movie theatre was not 'totally destroyed,' a fire department spokesman said. 'It is still usable.'

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