This year’s fire balloon festival in Taunggyi, Shan State, is expected to be bigger than in previous years, prompting organizers to enact several new safety measures, including restrictions on explosives.
“Ready-made explosive materials will be prohibited. The opening hole of a hot air balloon must be made with just bamboo, and the use of steel or aluminum will be prohibited,” said Dr. Than Win, a member of the festival’s organizing committee, at a planning meeting on Sept. 14.
The festival, which commemorates the Buddhist holiday of Tazaungdaing, is known for inviting teams to build and then launch unmanned hot air balloons into the sky above crowds of hundreds of thousands of spectators. While some balloons carry candles, most carry stacks of fireworks into the air that are meant to explode above the crowd. Occasionally, balloons fail to rise high enough, and and people must flee before they are struck by chunks of burning metal.
Stray fireworks and fallen balloons injure festival-goers every year. In 2014, four people were killed.
It is unclear whether this year’s prohibition will include home-made explosives, but it would make sense if it did. Last year, four people were injured and one volunteer fire fighter was killed when a flare entered the home of a pyrotechnician who was making explosives for the festival and blew it up.
In addition to the restrictions on explosives, organizers also said they would ban vendors who have not received permits to sell at the event.
The nine-day festival will run from Nov. 15 to 23 at the Awayyar Fire Balloon Field on the outskirts of Taunggyi. On the final day, teams with the most beautiful balloons will be awarded cash prizes.
The hot air balloon tradition was established by British colonizers in the 19th century.
Explosives are also used to celebrate Tazaungdaing in other parts of Myanmar, including Kalaw, another Shan State town, where fireworks are launched from the top of a tall post and fall onto spectators who get too close.