Explosions Rock Mexico’s Fireworks Capital

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At least 29 people have died from a chain-reaction explosion in the San Pablito fireworks market of Tultepec, Mexico, a city known for manufacturing the majority of the country’s fireworks and its annual burning of the bulls festival, one of the most chaotic, wild fireworks celebrations on the planet. 

Health officials put the number being treated for severe burns and other injuries at 72, including ten children, the Associated Press reports. Officials have not yet announced a cause for the explosion, which destroyed most of the market’s 300 stalls. The federal attorney general’s office is investigating and told Reuters there were six separate blasts. The market was in its busiest season in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s, when many set off fireworks in their holiday celebrations, and the market was stocked to meet the increased demand.

"This is part of the activity of our town. It is what gives us identity," Portuguez told the AP. "We know it is high-risk, we regret this greatly, but unfortunately many people's livelihoods depend on this activity."

Manufacturing fireworks is central to Tultepec’s economy, involving as much as 80 percent of the population. Family businesses have been making fireworks entirely by hand for generations, supplying Mexico and Latin America but not the U.S., where strict regulations and Chinese imports dominate. 

Tultepec’s signature industry has wrought destruction multiple times before. A 1988 explosion in the fireworks market killed 62 people. More recently, the San Pablito fireworks market burned down after explosions in both 2005 and 2006. Fireworks-related explosions are not uncommon across the rest of Mexico, either. An incident in a Veracruz market killed 29 people in 2002, and a 1999 explosion from illegally stored fireworks killed 63 people in Celaya.