A fire involving fireworks stored inside a weapons business in southeast Venezuela has killed at least seven people, consumed nearby buildings and continued to burn Tuesday, authorities said. As of Tuesday morning, there were seven dead and five injured in the fire, which began Monday afternoon, said Antonio Rivero, a director with the national civil protection services.
Rivero indicated the official toll could rise, saying that authorities were trying to determine if more people may have been trapped in the fire. Local media already put the death toll much higher, Union Radio reported at least 20 had died. Firefighters had not been able to access some areas where arms cartridges were stored because of fears the high temperatures could cause more explosions. It was not clear what set off the fireworks in the shop in downtown San Felix, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of Caracas.
Four neighboring stores were destroyed. Fireworks are readily available in Venezuela even though their sale is illegal. Many vendors stash their caches in storerooms or boxes out of sight. Fondness for fireworks in Venezuela is widespread, especially during the year-end holidays when they are set off continuously. The government, however, has tried to crack down on their sales amid frequent accidents leading to injuries, deaths and fires, reports the AP. N.U.