- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

VERACRUZ, Mexico, Jan. 1 (UPI) — More than two dozen people were killed and 50 others injured in an explosion and fire at an illegal fireworks stall in the eastern Gulf port of Veracruz.

Firefighters worked for hours to contain the blaze while fireworks exploded throughout the battle. The blaze started about 6 p.m. Tuesday when the market area was crowded with shoppers preparing for New Years’ celebrations.

The British Broadcast Corp cited local reports that a passerby tossed a lit cigarette into the stand setting the fire, but city officials have not confirmed a cause.

The initial fire, fueled by exploding fireworks, quickly spread to other stalls and buildings. The official death toll was set at 28 but that was before authorities were able to searched burned-out buildings. Most of the victims apparently died of smoke inhalation, the BBC reported.

The BBC quoted Veracruz spokesman Carlos Ortiz as saying illegal fireworks businesses had been closed but officials allowed them to reopen because of local resistance.

Illegal fireworks stands are common in Mexico and have been the tied to similar disasters. In 1999, some 50 people were killed in a fireworks explosion in the market area in Celaya in central Mexico. Many of those deaths occurred in secondary explosions of fireworks when rescue workers were trying to find victims. Among those killed in the Celaya disaster were police, firefighters and Red Cross workers.

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