Dangerous Lights: Injuries yet again amid Tazaungdaing fest’s exploding hot air balloons

This picture taken on November 14, 2018 shows participants releasing a hot-air balloon carrying small lanterns during the Tazaungdaing Lighting Festival at Taunggyi in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan State. – Brightly coloured balloons with hundreds of homemade fireworks woven into their frames are sent soaring into the night sky, showering down cascades of sparks onto adoring crowds in the annual Taunggyi fire balloon festival. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP)

The Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights has always been dangerous. On some level, it seems almost part of the allure. This year is no different.

Nine people were injured on Wednesday’s opening night when a hot air balloon with fireworks fell on the festival grounds, Dr. Than Win, a member of the organizing committee told BBC Burmese yesterday.

“Last night, a hot-air balloon with 40 pounds of explosives fell from 300 feet onto the festival. Because the balloon fell into the middle of the festival, where there were a lot of people, of course it hit some people,” he told the Burmese-language broadcaster. “Like always, people ran away when this happened.”

Like always, indeed.

For the uninitiated, the Festival of Lights — which this year is being held from Nov. 14-23 — fills the Shan state night sky with a brilliant display of fireworks and hot air balloons every fall.

The festival, commemorating the Buddhist holiday of Tazaungdaing and the end of the monsoon seasons, attracts crowds of hundreds of thousands of spectators. Teams are invited to build and launch unmanned hot-air balloons adorned with Buddhist symbols and candles and … an average of 60 kilograms of fireworks per balloon.

And every year, crashing balloons and stray fireworks injure festival-goers.

In 2014, four people were killed. Just last year, at least 15 people were injured and two killed when a hot-air balloon armed with handmade fireworks crashed onto the festival grounds.

Organizers are well aware of the dangers with the festival. In anticipation of what was expected to be a much bigger event this, the festival’s organizing committee enacted several new safety measures, including restrictions on explosives. So far, those don’t appear to be working so well.

If you want to take a look at the festival in living color, you can check out the short video our Coconuts TV crew made there just a few years ago below.




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