A massive fireball that engulfed people scooping up fuel spilling from a pipeline ruptured by thieves in central Mexico killed 21 people and badly burned 71 others in what was a chronicle of a tragedy foretold.
It came just three weeks after new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against fuel theft gangs that drilled dangerous, illegal taps into pipelines an astounding 12,581 times in the first 10 months of 2018, an average of about 42 per day.
With crowds of townspeople often involved, either aiding thieves or collecting spilled fuel in primitive containers, it was only a matter of time before a fire occurred.
In fact, they have occurred before, but seldom with the scale and horrifying death toll of Friday's fire in the state of Hidalgo, which came as people collected the spilled gasoline in buckets, plastic jugs, and garbage cans.
The leak was caused by an illegal pipeline tap in the small town of Tlahuelilpan, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.
Video footage showed dozens of residents in an almost festive atmosphere as whole families gathered in a field as a geyser of fuel spouted dozens of feet into the air from the tap.
Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad said 21 people were killed immediately and 71 suffered burns in the blast at the duct that carries fuel — apparently gasoline — from the Gulf coast to Tula, a city just north of Mexico City.