Flashback #Star50: ‘It was like being caught in a war’

FLAMES from the blasts shot to a height of up to several storeys.

That was how an eyewitness described the fire and explosions at a fireworks factory in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, on May 7,1991.

Thirty years on, the Bright Sparklers tragedy remained a heart wrenching story and a bitter lesson for all.

The fire and explosions at the fireworks factory claimed 26 lives and left more than 100 injured.

The explosions, heard up to 4km away, led some of the witnesses to think they were caught in a crossfire of a war.

A resident nearby even witnessed a man killed by debris.


“One man was killed before my eyes when he was hit on the head by a stone or piece of metal.

“It was like war, ” he was quoted in The Star then.

The series of explosions not only shook the vicinity, but also flattened nearby buildings.

The affected area covered about 50ha and about 200 other residential and commercial buildings were destroyed.

Star Media Group news editor Zulkifli Abd Rahman recalled the incredulity he felt when he saw houses with broken roofs on his way to the scene.

“There were ‘holes’ on the roofs. I was thinking to myself; ‘this is really something big; we haven’t even reached the factory yet’.”

Zulkifli, then a crime reporter, was sent to the scene the very next morning.

The entire place looked like it had been bombed when he got there, he said.

“Smoke was still rising. There was the smell of firecrackers.

“Ashes were everywhere, ” Zulkifli said.

It was believed that the fire started during a fireworks test at the factory.

According to nearby residents, the blaze in 1991 was the third in the factory, the others occurring in 1978 and 1982.

During a Royal Commission of Inquiry, a worker from the factory said she was testing a new type of firecracker created by the factory manager on the day of the explosion.

The tragedy exposed the fact that the factory had been operating illegally for more than 14 years in a residential area, as some government departments failed to practise due diligence.

Prior to the incident, the residents apparently closed an eye to the pollution and other dangers such factories pose, in return for opportunities to supplement their income.

After the tragedy, the government made major policy changes on safety measures at national and state levels.

The Hazardous Material Team (Hazmat) was set up by the Fire and Rescue Department in 1992 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by the Dewan Rakyat two years later.

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