Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Fire Starters

Words: Andreas Rottenschlager
Photography: ​Florian Rainer  

TULTEPEC IS MEXICO’S FIREWORKS CAPITAL—AND FOR NINE DAYS EACH YEAR, PYROTECHNICS RULE. 

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

For the climax, papier-mâché bulls are filled with fireworks and paraded to the town’s main plaza, where tens of thousands watch them go up in flames.

When I read online about the Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia in Tultepec, I was instantly fascinated,” says Viennese photographer Florian Rainer. “Tultepec is Mexico’s fireworks capital, and its residents make rockets and firecrackers for 120 million people. In the first week of March every year, the factory workers organize nine days of competitions and parades. It’s a festival for professional pyromaniacs. I had to go!

“I flew to Mexico City in early March and took the first bus north, 21 miles away. An incredible number of men with burns got on the bus, so I knew I was going in the right direction.”

The pamplonada, or “running of the bulls,” begins with a day-long parade through town.

“There was already a party atmosphere in the streets when
I arrived; women were barbecuing chickens over shopping carts and men were drinking tequila, all anticipating the big fireworks displays that mark the start of the festival. That evening I marched along with 5,000 people to a field to see the castillo competition. Castillos (“castles”) are wooden towers with Catherine wheels and launch platforms attached, and each belongs to a pyrotechnician who sets off his fireworks by remote control. If a pinwheel got stuck, men would clamber up onto the burning towers and get it going with their bare hands. That was a surreal sight.”

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

The firework castles are as tall as transmission towers. The pyrotechnicians set off the fireworks by remote controls.

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Four men try to restart a Catherine wheel—65 feet off the ground—that got stuck during the castillo competition. 

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Tultepec’s pyrotechnicians add to the display by planting rockets at the base of the firework towers. 

“My personal highlight came on day two of the festival. The town dwellers had created more than 300 papier-mâché bulls for the parade of the toritos, with each bull containing up to 4,000 fireworks. The parade moved toward the town’s main plaza as night fell, and when these bulls filled with explosives were set alight, the town just went berserk. There were sparks everywhere, magnesium caps were exploding, and people danced with delight amid the smoking remains.”

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Blaze of glory: Each team in the parade gets whipped by the crowd as they go.

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Chaos as the up to 4,000 fireworks stuffed inside the bulls light up and shower people with sparks.

THE RESIDENTS OF TULTEPEC WEAR THEIR BURNS WITH PRIDE. 
Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

The festival engages everyone from the town and surrounding areas.

“I took photographs until 4 a.m. As dawn began to break, I gave up trying to count the burn holes in my sweater. My pants were hanging off my legs in shreds, and I had burns on both hands. But you can really only be part of this kind of pyromaniac passion when you’re right up close to it.” 

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

A hoodie is about as far as people are willing to go to protect themselves. The purists don’t even bother with that.

Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia Tultepec

Dancing until the last sparks die out at 4 a.m. Locals spend the next day licking their wounds. 

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01 2016 The Red Bulletin

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