The Deadly American Escape Room Fire [Urban Legend]

“Can you tell me what happened in the fire in an American escape room? I heard that players died.”

Last weekend at Poland’s WroEscape conference, approximately a dozen people asked me about a fire in an American escape room where players lost their lives.

I had an incredible time at WroEscape, and will write more about that soon, but I must immediately address this rumor:

This deadly escape room fire never happened. This is an urban legend. A myth… but like most myths, it was born of some truth.

Image of a fire glowing against a black background.

Escape room fires in North America

I am aware of 3 separate fires in North American escape rooms. They happened in closed buildings when no players or employees were present:

  • Hoodwinked in New York City had a fire in the basement of their building. There were no injuries. After a few months of repairs they reopened.
  • An escape room company in Framingham, Massachusetts, never even had a chance to open because a fire in a neighboring business destroyed their facility. The owner of this company decided to start an escape room tech business instead of starting again from scratch.
  • GTFO Entertainment in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, had a fire in their building as well. It happened in the middle of the night and there were no injuries. They have since reopened.

If these fires happened and no one was injured, then where did the rumor come from? The short answer is me… Sort of…

Up The Game

At the Up The Game Escape Room Conference in The Netherlands in May, Lisa and I delivered a talk to a packed audience. One section of our talk discussed player safety. (This discussion begins around the 10 minute mark.)

I explained that with the amount of escape rooms operating, it is only a matter of time until there is a fire or some other emergency that could threaten players’ lives. I was making the point that escape rooms must be designed safely.

I further explained that a serious injury or death in an escape room would have a calamitous effect on the escape room industry in the United States. Insurance rates would rise and regulations would add a tremendous burden to owners. Many escape rooms would not survive this.

To further this argument, I mentioned the 1984 haunted house fire at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, that claimed the lives of 8 teenagers.

The story of this haunted house fire was later misinterpreted by conference attendees who didn’t hear our talk. The “haunt fire where participants died” became the “escape room fire where players died.”

Safety first

This deadly escape room fire was a myth. But if the escape room industry is not careful, it may come true. On that day, it will be too late to do something about it.

If you own or operate an escape room, please think about the safety of your players. This is more important than the purity of the experience that you deliver.

Always make sure that players can free themselves from your game without a gamemaster.

If they are locked in the room, then provide an emergency exit. The easier to operate the better.

If you physically restrain players, be certain that they can free themselves from the restraints. The easier to operate the better.

Keep your electrical outlets completely out of play.

There are many other issues of safety to consider, but let’s start with the basics and get smarter from there.

In an industry dedicated to creating fun and adventure, I ask everyone to commit to safety as well. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a life.

But, just to be clear, that has not already happened.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, Saw you post about the urban legend of an escape room fire. Yes, the last tragedy in haunted houses happened in 1984 and the Station Fire where the band Great White was playing had 650 people in the building and 100 people died 232 injured and 130 uninjured. Those two fires had big impacts on haunted house (and people assembly facilities). The materials, safety systems, and rules changed because of them The biggest impact is the awareness of safety by the haunted house owners and the industry association Haunted Attraction Association. The HAA encourages safety education with their Certified Haunted Attraction Operator Safety (CHAOS) certification with 8 hours of training, 4 of which is a fire safety class. Please continue to talk about escape room facility safety. It is vital to do for all. Thanks

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