Japanese police were yesterday investigating the cause of an explosion at a fireworks festival which left at least 59 people injured, including some with serious burns, when it ripped through the crowded site.
Witnesses recounted seeing victims, including children, screaming as they rolled around on the ground to try to extinguish the flames, while the thousands who had gathered for the Thursday night festival fled in panic.
The explosion is believed to have erupted at one of hundreds of concession stands lining a nearby riverbank at the festival, which is held annually outside the ancient capital of Kyoto and attracts upwards of 100,000 people.
Video footage showed the stalls, which had been selling drinks and snacks, going up in flames and sending smoke into the night sky, before a larger blast erupted.
Early accounts said the incident was believed to have been caused by a gas cylinder, but Jiji Press news agency said police suspect the fire may have started when a vendor added gasoline to a running power generator.
“I heard a bang and then saw a billow of smoke,” a 37-year-old man, who had been volunteering near the site, told Kyodo news agency.
Pictures from the scene showed charred concession booths and an abandoned baby stroller among the picnic blankets and clothing left behind after the crowd fled in the aftermath of the blast.
Of the 59 injured, at least 19 people suffered major burns and other serious injuries, according to police. One 10-year-old boy remained in intensive care yesterday.
“I heard a boy crying, ‘atsui, atsui [hot, hot]’,” a middle-aged man told Nippon Television from the scene yesterday morning.
“People gathered ice cubes from wherever they could and used them to cool peoples’ burns,” he added.
The fireworks display was canceled after the incident. It was unclear how many spectators were in the immediate vicinity of the festival, which was held in Fukuchiyama City, about 70km north of Kyoto.
A 27-year-old male witness told the top-selling daily Yomiuri Shimbun that he saw the fire start near a jerry can sitting next to a generator at the back of a concession stand.
When a man, who appeared to be the vendor, opened the can’s lid, a hissing noise was heard just before a fire started, the Yomiuri said.
“We’ll have to see the results of our on-site investigation to determine the cause of the fire,” a police officer told reporters yesterday.
The police force’s serious crimes division was taking part in a joint investigation with firefighters to probe the possibility of negligence, he added.