April 16, 1997: For those of you who may not know, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia millions of pilgrims performs Hajj every year. During one of the rituals of this pilgrimage, a certain area got overcrowded by the influx of tens of thousands of pilgrims all at once, which subsequently led to a great stampede and caused the death of more than 300 pilgrims.[irp]
Our hearts go out to all the pilgrims who lost their lives in the incident and to their families to stay strong in these testing times. We also pray for the quick recovery of all the missing pilgrims and injured pilgrims who were hurt because of the stampede. This was no doubt a great loss of life not only for Saudi Arabia but for all Muslim countries and all Muslims as we have lost countless Muslim brothers and sisters. However, it is important to note that such a tragedy has not occurred for the first time during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This Hajj Fire incident resulted in many lost lives and scores of pilgrims were also injured in the process. This was a result of a gas explosion and the subsequent fire caused by it in a pilgrim tent near the city of Makkah. The incident occurred on the 16 April 1997 and was responsible for killing an estimate of 300 people. In this incident, too, overcrowding was one of the major contributing factors to the subsequent mishap which took place. Initially, the fire erupted inside one tent arranged for the pilgrims which had become overcrowded. This incident also occurred in Mina and it is reported that around 2 million Muslim pilgrims had all gathered around the area of the incident on the first day of Hajj.
Shortly prior to noon a fire erupted in the tent which was caused by an exploding canister of cooking gas. The cooking gas had been brought with the pilgrims to enable them to cook food daily. At the time the fire erupted the winds were blowing at 64 KM/H or 40 MPH and allowed the fire to grow and spread by fanning it. This resulted in the destruction of nearly 70,000 tents.[irp]
According to the official version, 1290 people were injured while 217 had been killed, however, the local media and witnesses claim that the death toll was at least 300 because several people were trampled in the stampede which followed the fire. An official report which surfaced sometime later stated the death toll to be at 343 however to date no one could come up with a final number of fatalities. Saudi authorities fought the fire with three hundred fire engines, which were given air support by helicopters. This allowed them to control the fire in 3 hours.