KYOTO – The explosion that ripped through a row of food stalls at a summer fireworks festival Thursday evening in Kyoto Prefecture left 59 people injured, firefighters and police said Friday.
Eighteen of the victims suffered major burns and other serious injuries, including a 13-year-old boy who remains unconscious in a hospital in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, and a 10-year-old boy who was being treated in the intensive care unit at another hospital.
The injured people ranged in age from 3 to 85, the officials said.
The blast occurred at around 7:30 p.m., just before the start of the fireworks, in the main viewing venue on the banks of the Yura River in Fukuchiyama, across from the launch site, authorities said.
Witnesses said they saw victims, including children, screaming as they rolled around on the ground to try to extinguish the flames, while thousands who had gathered for the evening festival fled in panic.
Video footage showed the stalls, which had been selling drinks and snacks, going up in flames and sending smoke into the night sky.
“I heard a boy crying, ‘atsui, atsui’ (hot, hot),” a middle-aged man told NTV from the scene Friday morning.
“People gathered up ice cubes from wherever they could and used them to cool peoples’ burns,” he said.
Police and fire officials launched a joint investigation.
Police sources said the blast is believed to have been caused by one of the stall operators pouring gasoline into an electricity generator without switching it off, sparking a blaze that may have set off a nearby propane gas cylinder.
The police plan to question the stall operator, who was injured in the blast and taken to a hospital, on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injuries, the sources said.
“We’ll have to see the results of our on-site investigation to determine the cause of the fire,” a police officer said.
The local chamber of commerce, which organized the festival, said other propane gas cylinders in the stalls may have exploded. Local residents said they heard more than one explosion.
The firefighters said three stalls caught fire and were destroyed.
They were among around 350 stalls set up for the annual festival, which last year drew around 110,000 people mostly from Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.