TAIPEI - Witnesses described the scene at a Taiwan water park as "hell" after a ball of fire ripped through a crowd at a "colour party" on Saturday.
The blast occurred as coloured powder that was being sprayed on the partygoers ignited.
Amateur video footage showed young revellers dancing in front of a stage and cheering as clouds of green and yellow powder covered them.
But their joy turned to terror when the powder suddenly erupted in flames, engulfing them in an inferno as they ran screaming for their lives.
Some were dressed only in swimwear. Images from the scene showed many with severe burns being cared for.
One male student who sustained minor injuries described the scene as "hell".
"There was blood everywhere, including in the pool where lots of the injured were soaking themselves for relief from the pain," he told reporters.
His visibly shaken girlfriend added: "I saw lots of people whose skin was gone."
Ambulances had struggled to reach the scene, and victims were carried away on rubber rings and inflatable dinghies as friends desperately tried to get them out. Around 1,000 revellers were at the Colour Play Asia event at Formosa Fun Coast water park, according to officials.
Several major hospitals in Taiwan have been asked to donate skin grafts and surgical equipment to help treat the injured, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said.
One father broke down as he spoke of how his daughter was in intensive care with third-degree burns. "She was attending a music concert... Why would there be an explosion?"
The water park issued a statement yesterday saying it was "deeply saddened" and would cooperate with the ongoing probe.
General manager Chen Hui- ying told reporters all partygoers had been insured, but did not say to what amount. "Throwing coloured corn starch around... We had never heard such an activity could be dangerous," she said.
Deputy fire chief Chen Chung-yueh of the New Taipei City fire department said yesterday that the blast might have been caused by "sparks from machinery or lighting equipment".
Five people, including event manager Lu Chung-chi, were detained by police. They are being questioned by prosecutors on charges of offences against public safety and negligence of duties that caused severe injuries, a police spokesman said.