In seventh-century China, fireworks were invented and used to ward away evil spirits with colorful fire. The ancient Chinese book Classified Essentials of the Mysterious Tao of the True Origins of Things, dated 850 AD, describes how the devices often caused more harm than good: "Some have heated together sulfur, realgar and saltpeter with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down."
As technology advanced, so did our love of pyrotechnic spectacle. A great fireworks show can be a sublime experience. But like the ancient Chinese, we continue to accidentally misuse the explosive arts, and thanks to the innovation of modern handheld video recording devices (perhaps second to fireworks), we can also marvel at exploding displays that go horribly wrong. These are some of the wildest.
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Edinburgh, Scotland, 2012
At a community fireworks show at the Pentland Community Centre in Edinburgh, all was going well until one of the fireworks "bounced off a climbing frame... landing in a box of unexploded rockets." That sent the whole thing off, sending all the onlookers running as the ground-based fireworks started to detonate.
Valencia, Spain, 2013
It's not totally clear if this is a display that went horribly wrong or a fireworks display that's just extremely dangerous for all involved. What you’re watching is a Spanish festival event called "La Mascletá," which is all about blowing things up. Usually held in the Valencia in March, the celebrations involve blowing up small percussive masclets strung on wires, which is why you can see the explosion seemingly weaving back and forth in the video. What isn’t usually done is the giant explosion at the end, which didn’t hurt anyone, but doesn’t look planned either.
San Diego, California, 2012
Five years ago, for its big Fourth of July celebration, the city of San Diego, California planned to put on a fireworks display that would use a computer program to choreograph the launching of the explosives to music. Four minutes before the show, the technicians started warming up the computer. According to August Santore, co-owner of Garden State Fireworks who was operating the pyrotechnics, "it came to a first test to light an igniter at each location so we see a little match pop to see everything's fine. But instead everything opened up. All the masters fired. The pyro worked 100 percent. Unfortunately it all worked at the same time."
Simi Valley, Los Angeles, 2013
An estimated 10,000 people had gathered for the Rotary Club Independence Day fireworks show at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park. Several of the fireworks accidentally detonated on the ground, exploding close to the spectators in the parking lot. One attendee described the scene: "It was almost as if one of the crates that had several mortars on it tipped over, and it just set off a chain reaction. There were things going into the crowd, they were shooting up into the air, there was smoke everywhere, panic started to settle in... " (Despite the video description, there were no reported injuries from the scene of the failed display.)
Coalville, Iowa, 2013
Fireworks displays are prone to going off in reverse. Coalville was using a computer-controlled fireworks system and had cleared the area of all but two firefighters when the computer program glitched and set off 75% of the show at the same time, right at the beginning. No one was injured, but the finale was at the beginning, making the rest of the show lackluster in comparison.
Taunggyi, Myanmar, 2012
The Tazaungdaing Festival is a national holiday in Myanmar (formerly Burma) that usually falls in November. It’s held on the full moon in the eighth month of the Burmese calendar which is supposed to signal the end of the rainy season. In the Taunggyi region of Shan State, they release hot air balloons lit with candles to celebrate the full moon day. As you can see, this has evolved into hot air balloons with fireworks on them, and -- surprising no one -- these balloons don’t always get high enough to safely start exploding.
Location unknown, 2011
As a bonus, this is the greatest neighborhood illegal fireworks fail. Instead of demystifying the video by tracking down it’s origin, maybe we let it fade into the collective subconscious of the internet as the perfect fireworks fail: no casualties, no screaming, and a perfectly timed car alarm.
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