Some 30 British Jews were reportedly injured in London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood on Wednesday evening when a bonfire erupted into a large explosion during a celebration of the Lag B’Omer festival.
Medics treated about 30 people at the scene, the Yeshiva World News website reported, and some 10 were taken to local hospitals with burns on their faces.
Footage of the explosion distributed by Hatzola, a Jewish volunteer emergency medical service, showed a local ultra-Orthodox rabbi preparing to light a pyre. When he tries to ignite it, however, the pile immediately erupts in flames and sends dozens of people fleeing in panic.
While the fireball was apparently sparked by excessive fuel poured on the combustible pile before it was lit, some on social media speculated that it may have been caused by mobile phones placed in the pile by ultra-Orthodox Jews. That claim was magnified Thursday morning by British tabloids.
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose the use of smartphones, deeming them dangerous and spiritually harmful, and Yeshiva World News said the rabbi had made a speech about the issue before the explosion. It also said there were “definitely” multiple smartphones placed inside the pyre.
Hatzola said on Twitter that it “provided a mega response team to a major incident as a result of a fire explosion.”
London’s ambulance service said it sent a hazardous area response team to assist Hatzola.
The festival of Lag B’Omer marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a 2nd century AD sage. The custom of lighting bonfires to celebrate it has developed over the past hundreds of years and has no basis in religious law.