CHINA> Regional
Two blasts at illegal fireworks plants kill 14 over weekend
Updated: 2009-01-04 23:37

JINAN - A total of 14 people were killed in two separate illegal fireworks plant blasts in China this weekend as the traditional Spring Festival draws near.

One person died in an illegal factory at about 11 a.m. in Guozhuang Town, Wuji County on Sunday in north China's Hebei Province.

The workshop formerly produced "Hell banknotes," which are burned to commemorate the dead. The owner illegally switched to making fireworks on Saturday evening, said Yan Junhong, a Guozhuang Township official.

Another blast in east China's Shandong Province killed 13 people.

The blast occurred at about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in an abandoned kiln that was being used illegally for producing fireworks by a man in Qianwang Village, Weifang City, the city government said.

Eight bungalows were destroyed and trees were shorn in half. A minibus was left in a pile of twisted metal. Shoes and personal belongings of the dead were scattered about, a Xinhua reporter saw at the scene.

"The desolate kiln is at the border between Weicheng County and Shouguang County. There, houses don't even have any cement. The wall was made of brick and mud," said Zhang Zhicai, deputy head of Weifang Municipal Public Security Bureau.

"The bungalows are 600 meters from the village. The owner had rented the houses since January 2008 and earned a living by painting houses for others before that date."

The man planned to produce fireworks to make some money as the Spring Festival approached. All workers were banned from leaving the workshop.

Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year, which arrives on January 26 this year, is the most important family festival for Chinese. Fireworks are a key part of the new year celebrations.

The month before the Spring Festival is the peak season for fireworks sales -- and also for explosions, especially in illegal plants.

Since mid-November, 10 people have been killed and 10 others injured in three separate illegal fireworks plant explosions in Guangdong, Hunan and Shandong provinces, according to the State Council Work Safety Commission.