In the 70s, a deadly fire broke out at the Joelma Building in São Paulo, Brasil, killing many people. Later, the building is reported haunted, and the ghosts of the victims are crying for help from beyond the grave.

In downtown São Paulo in the southeast region in Brazil, a building stands that were the site of one of the most horrific fires that the world ever saw. Today the building has been renamed and is called Edifício Praça da Bandeira, but it is probably most known by its former name, the Joelma Building. 

The 25-story Joelma Building is famous because of a fire that started in the building in 1974 that took the life of at least 179 people, and is the world’s worst skyscraper fire in history besides the World Trade Center fire by death toll. 

The Death Fire of the Joelma Building

On a Friday the 1. February at Avenida 9 de Julho, 225, an air conditioning overheated on the twelfth floor in the morning. The building was used as an office building so at this particular time, the working day had started. The banking company Banco Crefisul S/A that worked in the building had 756 employees present.

In the 70s, a deadly fire broke out at the Joelma Building in São Paulo, Brasil, killing many people. Later, the building is reported haunted, and the ghosts of the victims are crying for help from beyond the grave.
The Fire: Although the Joelma Building didn’t collapse, the whole building was swallowed by the flames.

The Joelma Building was a brand new building and completed in 1971 and it shouldn’t have any old or rusty things that would malfunction like this. The reason why the air conditioning overheated was that it used the wrong plug that it needed. Also, the materials that had been used to build the interior of wood, the fabrics and such were very flammable, and in no less than 20 minutes, the entire building was engulfed in flames that trapped the people inside. 

There were no emergency lights, fire exits or fire sprinkler systems that would help the people trapped by the fire and smoke inside, and after the tragedy, it put a new focus of how important standard things like this was in a building. But for those trapped inside of the fiery hell, it was all too late.

There was a chain of events that led to the big catastrophe the death fire turned out to be. The firefighters came only 20 minutes after the fire started, but didn’t have proper equipment with them to put out the flames in the tall building. The ladders they had could only reach up to 14 floors of the building with 25 floors, and those above were left to their own devices.

The fire in the Joelma Building turned into a battle of survival. They tried to rescue the people on the upper floors by helicopter as well, but didn’t manage to get close enough to get them safely out.

By the time the fire was extinguished, over 300 people were injured, and they estimate that between 179 to 189 people had lost their lives. 

The 13 Souls in the Elevator

40 people tried to jump out of the Joelma Building when they realized they wouldn’t manage to get down on the lower floors. Of these jumper there were none survivors because of the height of the building. The only way to escape was by getting down to the lower floors, but with no emergency exits, the people inside found themselves trapped. 

13 people tried to escape by using the elevators of the building that was at the time still working. Although not recommended to use under fire, they were desperate enough to try to escape. The plan didn’t work though and the elevator stopped on its way down and trapped them inside where they died of suffocation as the flames were closing in on them.

The bodies were badly hurt by the fire and it even took time to make the carnage of huddled corpses into 13 individuals. They never managed to identify the 13 souls and today they are buried in anonymous graves at the Vila Alpina Cemetery. 

Haunting the Cemetery

These 13 souls have since been suspected of still lingering in this world as ghosts. At the site of the mass grave of the 13 unidentified bodies there were reports of moaning and cries for help for those that in their dying moment, never got rescued. 

In the 70s, a deadly fire broke out at the Joelma Building in São Paulo, Brasil, killing many people. Later, the building is reported haunted, and the ghosts of the victims are crying for help from beyond the grave.
The Thirteen Unknown Graves: The graves of the 13 souls that were never identified in the Joelma Building fire. Visitors comes and puts glasses of water for them. // Photo: Wikimedia

The cemetery caretaker at the time, Luiz Nunez was so bothered by this and became desperate to stop the noise of their cries and poured water over the graves. This act of extinguishing an eternal fire he meant helped to quiet them, at least for one day. 

From that day, visitors started leaving a glass of water on the grave instead of the usual flowers. 

The Haunting at the Joelma Building

Back at the building where this tragedy happened, the reports of the paranormal continue to this day as well. People experienced strange phenomena where the cars in the parking lot outside of the Joelma Building would suddenly start blinking with their lights without anyone turning them on, and the inside of the building was also haunted. 

It is said that every floor above the 15th floor is haunted, where the firefighters ladders didn’t reach. People keep seeing shadows in the stairways and experience malfunctioning elevators. Fire alarms going off with no fire is also some of the activity that is apparently going on there. 

Curiously enough It is not the only tragedy that happened on the site of where the building stands either. And the place where the building was built has been called cursed land because of its history.

Cursed Land

In 1948, a chemistry professor named Paulo Camargo lived in a house at the same place where the Joelma Building would be built with his mother and two sisters. They had a lot of illness in their family that took a lot of energy for Camargo that had to take care of them by himself. It didn’t get better when Camargo found a girlfriend named Isaltina dos Amaros that his mother didn’t approve of. 

It all ended with Camargo killing his entire family by shooting them and throwing them down a well. They never really found a clear motive as to why he ended up doing what he did. And they never got a chance to dig further either. When the police came and discovered the well, Camargo killed himself with the very gun he had used on his family.  

When they built the Joelma building it is said they changed the entrance so the address wouldn’t be the same as the murderers. But the place was still the same and some even called it cursed land because of the place.

Even before the gruesome murders in 1948, the place was believed to be a ‘pelourinho’, a public place were they would take slaves and criminals. They would tie them up and torture them, and at times, also kill them for the public up to the abolition of slavery in 1888.  

Purified by a Buddhist Monk

Today the Joelma Building is once again renamed and something stands on the top of a past buried tragedy. After the fire the Joelma Building closed for 4 years for reconstruction. It was renamed Edifício Praça da Bandeira after it opened again to rid itself of its past. But there are some things you just can’t bury. 

In 2004, they were doing work on the building, but the owners was met with hesitant workers, not wanting to be there at all because of its haunted history. Many wouldn’t step into the new building until it was blessed by a Buddhist monk. The monk that did the blessing said in interviews that she had purified the place and deemed it safe for the living. The Buddhist monk also said that she could do nothing about the ghosts on the upper floors, and that they still lingered.

But is it enough to ward off another tragedy to have a monk purify the place? Is the supposedly cursed land clean and cured? Or was it just a coincidence that they happened on the same land as the past atrocities? 

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