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Fire from Above

Philip Heijmans

Look into Myanmar's most dangerous and beautiful festival.

​At the end of the eighth month of the Burmese calendar, when the moon is full, locals from around Shan State gather in the town of Taunggyi to launch hundreds of hot air balloons packed with homemade fireworks to mark the end of the rainy season at the Tazaungdaing Lighting Festival.

Though known as one of the region's most spectacular events all year, it is also known as one of the world's oddest, containing hand-powered ferris wheels, curious carnival games, and cruel animal shows. The explosive-laced balloons are known to collapse, which can be quite dangerous since thousands of spectators show up for the festival – this year four people lost  their lives during the celebration, while 12 others were injured. The photos that follow are a peek into one of the world's most beautiful and dangerous celebrations.

A stall vendor holds her child as they wait for customers to buy their wares

A hot air balloon prepares for liftoff

Men dunk torches into buckets of water following the launch of a balloon

A balloon containing fireworks takes to the sky

A team of balloon builders celebrate the successful ascension of their town's balloon

A group of Myanmar balloon builders attaches candles to a balloon before liftoff

A group prepares to attach a tail of candles to a balloon

A man inspects homemade fireworks that will be used as the undercarriage of a balloon

Men holding lit torches use heat to inflate a balloon

A fireman watches as a misfired balloon hovers dangerously over a truck

A fire truck uses a water cannon to deflate a balloon that failed to take off

Onlookers celebrate as fireworks attached to a balloon explode on the ground beneath it

A journalist takes cover as fireworks attached to a balloon explode on the ground

A mother and child navigate the festival grounds as fireworks go off around them

Men climb a manually operated ferris wheel, using their body weight to spin it around

​Philip H​eijmans is a freelance journalist currently based in Yangon, Myanmar.

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