PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — The launch of the traditional firework rocket known as the “Chupinazo” kicked off Pamplona’s famed San Fermin running of the bulls festival on Thursday.
The firework was launched from Pamplona’s town hall balcony at noon to the delight of thousands of people packed into the square below.
The throng — most dressed in festival’s typical white clothes and red neck scarves — immediately erupted ecstatically, screaming “Viva San Fermin!” and spraying each other with wine.
The nine-day, street-partying fiesta was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”
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The “Chupinazo” comes a day before the first of eight morning bull runs, in which daredevils test their speed and bravery by racing with fighting bulls along a 930-yard (850-meter) street course to the bullring.
The bulls then face matadors and almost certain death in afternoon bullfights.
Bull runs, or “encierros,” as they are called in Spanish, are a key part of summer festivals across Spain. Dozens of people are injured each year in the runs, most of them in falls.
Twelve people, including four Americans, were gored in last year’s San Fermin runs.
In all, 15 people have died from being gored at the San Fermin festival since record-keeping began in 1924.
Owing to complaints in previous years, the city has renewed its campaign for a festival free of sexist aggression.
Security has also been stepped up to avert any possible terror attack with more than 3,500 officers being deployed and access to the city of heavy vehicles seriously restricted.