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Mexican Boom Town

Life, and death, in Tultepec, Mexico’s explosive fireworks capital

The city of Tultepec is known as Mexico’s ‘pyrotechnics capital,’ where life is centred on the production of artisanal, hand-made fireworks. “If you’re from Tultepec, you have gunpowder in your blood,” says Salvador Sanchez, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a fireworks maker.

Every year, Tultepec holds a weeklong festival to honour St. John of God, who Mexican pyrotechnic craftsmen consider their patron saint. Locals and tourists fill the streets to watch the highlight of the celebrations – a parade of giant bull effigies rigged with fireworks.

Once the parade is over, fireworks light up the sky. The bull-shaped floats spew streams of sparks and spin, while the most daring revellers dance frenetically among exploding fireworks and screaming rockets. But it’s not all joy and magic. Scores of festival-goers are severely burned or injured during the incredible spectacle.

Danger and death go hand-in-hand with the craft of firework making. Salvador’s father was killed at work when something accidentally went off. In another tragic incident, 42 people were killed and dozens injured in December of 2016, when a powerful chain-reaction explosion ripped through Tultepec’s busy fireworks market.

RTD’s Pavel Baydikov went to Tultepec to see why its residents risk their lives to make pyrotechnics and witness the explosive beauty of their work.