By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN, Iran (AA) - With people losing their lives, having their organs amputated, or suffering severe burns, the traditional “festival of fire” across Iran on the last Wednesday of the Iranian calendar year ending March 20 again turned into gloom and despair for many revelers.
At least 26 people died and over 4,300 were wounded in weeks-long Chaharshanbe Suri festivities that culminated on Wednesday, mostly due to handmade explosives.
Jafar Miadfar, head of Iran’s National Medical Emergency Organization, in his remarks on Wednesday, said 26 people died this year and 4,368 were injured, marking an increase of 22% in casualties related to the festival from last year.
Most of the deaths and injuries were reported in the capital Tehran, local health officials said.
The annual festival dates back 2,500 years and has its roots in pre-Islamic Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the region.
Translating into Red Wednesday or Wednesday Celebration in Persian, Chahashanbe Suri falls on the last Wednesday before Nevruz, the Iranian new year that starts on March 21.
But preparations related to the festivity begin weeks ahead, including the production of firecrackers and handmade explosives. On the night of the festival, people take to the streets, burst firecrackers and other explosives and jump and dance around bonfires lit in the streets and public places.
“This festival is an integral part of Iranian culture and immensely popular despite no religious significance,” Mehdi Mohammadi, a Tehran-based cultural historian, told Anadolu.
However, he added that the ancient festival has in recent years “lost its sheen” due to tragic incidents resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries.
Almost 80% of total casualties happened on Tuesday night, Miadfar noted, with most cases reported from the cities of Tehran, Tabriz, Hamedan, Qazvin and Kerman.
- ‘Sabotage networks and explosives’
As per official statistics, 79% of victims were men and 21% were women while 44% of victims were aged between 6 and 18, many of them admitted to hospitals.
Of the total number of injured people, at least 229 people had their limbs amputated, 1,357 people sustained eye injuries and 867 suffered severe burns.
At least seven ambulances were also damaged on Tuesday night, including three in Tehran, three in Kerman and one in Qom as medical workers had been put on high alert.
Some reports said an explosive-laden bag severely injured three siblings in the central city of Qom on Tuesday night, one of them suffering 90% burns.
Police officials said this year, compared to previous years, they discovered and confiscated a larger quantity of dangerous explosives and interrogated hundreds of people in different cities.
On the eve of the festival this year, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in a statement announced the discovery of “sabotage networks and explosives” including hand grenades and homemade mortars.
At least eight people were arrested on Tuesday night for the production and use of dangerous explosives during festivities, according to Tehran police chief Abbasali Mohammadian.
Jalal Maleki, spokesman for Tehran's fire department, told Anadolu that most of the fire festival casualties are related to the “improper storage or usage” of explosive material by young people.
"These materials are highly combustible and sometimes a small spark or even high environment temperature is enough for a deadly explosion to happen,” he said.
A police official, speaking to Anadolu, said “homemade explosives” are mostly used in the festival.
“From harmless firecrackers, the year-end festivity has over the years turned into a macabre display of violence and vandalism with some inimical elements hijacking the celebrations,” he said.