Five people were treated for burns on Sunday after a drunk karaoke customer set fire to more than a dozen hydrogen balloons when he tried to separate them with his lighter.
Police in Changsha city, the capital of Hunan province in central China, arrested a suspect who was identified only by his last name Chen. He had suffered burns on his arms and face.
Zhou Mingchen, an official from the Changsha Public Security Bureau, told Changsha Radio and Television Station that the suspect was “drunk” and that he had tried to give one of the balloons to a young woman in the same elevator car. The couple did not know each other.
CCTV images from the karaoke bar show a number of guests entering the elevator. Among them are Chen and his friend Liu, who is holding a bunch of more than a dozen balloons filled with hydrogen.
According to the report, Chen and Liu had spent the night in the establishment and were preparing to leave shortly after 5 a.m. local time when they encountered a young woman waiting for the same elevator.
Moments after the group entered the elevator, Chen lit a flame with his lighter and set fire to the entire group of hydrogen balloons, which immediately exploded in the crowded room, according to surveillance camera footage.
The video ends with Chen, Liu and others streaming out of the elevator car as the flames and smoke dispersed.
Zhou, who was one of the responding officers that day, said Chen later admitted that he tried to separate the bundle of tangled balloon strings.
“The threads were tangled together. I tried to separate them with my teeth, but when that didn’t work, I used my lighter,” Chen told the TV station.
“I wanted to burn the string. As soon as I squeezed the lighter, a second later all the balloons exploded,” he added. “My mind went completely blank when I saw the flames. My hands and face were burned.”
Chen was arrested on unspecified charges, while four other people were treated for burns of varying degrees, the police officer said in a statement. Among the victims was the young woman who suffered the most severe burns of the five victims.
She continues to be hospitalized at Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University and is being treated for burns on her arms, face and body.
Zhou said: “The suspect was drunk. He was not thinking properly. We are still assessing the severity of the injuries of all the victims in order to decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings against him”.
Balloons filled with hydrogen have been banned in China for several years for safety reasons, but many are still available from informal vendors, especially in smaller cities.