Fire Marshal: About Half Of Circus-Goers Were Injured In Deadly Tent Collapse

Aug 5, 2015

New Hampshire Chief Fire Marshal Bill Degnan.

A state official says about 50 people -- roughly half of the spectators in the circus tent that collapsed in Lancaster Monday killing a man and his daughter -- sustained some kind of injuries, although many were minor.

The operator has canceled the remaining shows in New Hampshire.

It isn’t surprising so many people had some kind of injury given a big structure like a tent and people perched on bleachers, Bill Degnan, the state’s chief fire marshal said Wednesday.

“You have the potential for a number of things to strike you or people to fall.”

But many of those injuries were minor and only one person remains hospitalized, he said.

He said many of those hurt went to their own doctors, not wanting to put an additional burden on local emergency rooms.

Walker Brothers Circus had eight more shows planned in the state, but has canceled them on the recommendation of state officials, Degnan said.

Stopping the other shows seemed prudent since it isn’t clear whether the operator was at fault, Degnan said.

At a news conference in Lancaster he also said the investigation is complex and will take a while to finish. But at that point it will be reviewed with Coos County Attorney John McCormick to see whether any charges should be brought.

He also noted that the circus was hit by a particularly strong and localized storm thought to have winds as strong as 70 miles per hour.

However, he said the circus was at fault for not notifying the Lancaster fire department and getting a place-of-assembly permit. That involves a safety inspection.

Asked whether he thought the Lancaster officials should have taken the initiative and done an inspection, he said it wasn’t their responsibility. But he praised the fire department and police saying the quick and professional response almost certainly saved lives.

An official at the fire department referred questions about the inspection to Degnan.