GUATEMALA CITY – The death toll has risen to 18 in a fire at one of this capital’s main markets, a blaze that also left sizable economic damage, officials said.
Many of the victims’ bodies were at least partially burned in the fire near the Terminal Market Nov. 20, among them were nine women, seven men and two children, emergency services said.
The huge blaze began at a fireworks shop in the part of the capital known as El Granero.
Officials believe that the tragedy could have been caused when a firework known as a “whistler” ignited.
Witnesses told local radio stations on Monday that the blaze broke out when someone dropped a lighted cigarette at the fireworks kiosk.
Strong winds besetting the capital contributed to spreading the flames, which ultimately consumed at least 50 shops in the area, most of them fireworks kiosks.
Emergency workers said the high number of fatalities was due to the fact that shop owners were trapped inside their businesses by the quickly spreading flames as they tried to salvage some of their merchandise.
The spokesman for the municipal fire department, Ricardo Lemus, said that the market is home to numerous fireworks shops that often ignore safety regulations.
The Guatemalan market fire was the third major fireworks-related explosion in Central America in the last two weeks.
Fireworks accidents last month claimed more than 30 lives in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.