TIJUANA, Mexico— At least 31 are dead and a dozen more missing following a horrific display of fireworks that consumed an outdoor market outside Mexico City, in nearby Mexico State.
The San Pablito market in Tultepec, the heart of Mexico’s handcrafted fireworks industry, had been called “the safest artificial fireworks market in Latin America” by the Mexico State government just days before the disaster. But now, as more than 60 people—including children who were transported to a hospital in Galveston, Texas—receive treatment for severe burns, the safety of this artisanal Mexican industry is called into question.
The explosions that leveled hundreds of vendors’ stalls on Tuesday are just the latest in a series of similar tragedies for Mexico in recent memory.
The San Pablito market had already been rebuilt twice before following similar incidents in 2005 and 2006, which destroyed more than 300 market stalls and left dozens injured. Even more explosions leveled the new construction once again in 2007, shortly after the stalls were rebuilt and fortified.
Tultepec, which produces more than a quarter of Mexico’s pyrotechnics and reportedly 40 percent of local residents work in the industry, is known as the Mexican fireworks capital. But more than two dozen explosions and at least a half dozen dead each year have not been enough to kill the industry for the city that prides itself on a 200-year tradition of producing fireworks.
The latest horrific explosion, which was filmed from a safe distance, is one of at least three locally in the last year alone, albeit the most deadly. These explosions are fairly common in surrounding towns in Mexico State, like nearby Melchor Ocampo, where an illegal fireworks factory exploded at the end of October, injuring four people. Or nearby Tultilán, where a pyrotechnics disaster at the local church killed a child and injured 38 people, days after New Year’s celebrations in 2013.
But the tragedies aren’t confined to the fireworks cluster in Mexico State, and fireworks, which are notoriously dangerous anywhere, are often disastrously handled all over the country. Tragically, fireworks-related deaths are commonly linked to festivities and holiday celebrations.
Last year, less than two weeks before Christmas, two people were killed and three others seriously injured, after gunpowder kegs exploded in Tonalá, Guadalajara. Last Christmas, a 14-year-old girl died after being hit in the head with a firework in Veracruz. Two years ago, on December 29, a 12-year-old boy lost his hands while playing with fireworks in Juarez, Chihuahua. He died shortly after.
The latest disaster is just another in a long list of pyrotechnic tragedies that have claimed dozens of lives in Mexico. Twenty-eight people were killed on New Year’s Eve in 2003, and dozens more injured, as several market blocks selling Christmas wares in Veracruz were engulfed in flames. Two weeks before Christmas, in 1988, at least 68 were killed and more than 200 others injured at the populous La Merced market in Mexico City when a city block was consumed by gunpowder-fueled explosions.
Despite the dangers, fireworks continue to be a hard-to-regulate hazard in Mexico. Last Christmas, authorities announced they had seized nearly four tons of illegal fireworks from the blocks surrounding La Merced market, the site of the deadly 1988 disaster in Mexico City. More than a ton and a half were seized at the same site again in September.
But whether illegal, or fully legal and regulated—as was the site of yesterday’s Tultepec disaster—the dangers associated with fireworks in Mexico are often outweighed by the country’s desire to end each year with a bang.