LIMA, Peru — Police combed through downtown Lima for fireworks Monday, lugging away crate after crate of Roman candles, bottle rockets and firecrackers in hopes of averting a disaster like the inferno that killed nearly 300 people over the weekend.
The seizures followed what one official said was the deadliest fire in Peru's history, which occurred Saturday night in an area of historic downtown Lima filled with holiday shoppers.
Lima Fire Chief Tulio Nicolini said the blaze began after sparks from a firecracker, lighted apparently as a demonstration, ignited others on some of the dozens of fireworks stands nearby.
The ensuing blaze devoured four blocks of decrepit apartment buildings and shopping galleries in a matter of minutes, leaving dozens of people, including small children, charred beyond recognition.
About 40 tons of fireworks had been stashed in the congested neighborhood, said Gabriela Adrianzen of the mayor's office.
As rescue workers continued to search for victims, Atty. Gen. Nelly Calderon said the death toll had reached 290 by Monday afternoon.
Authorities said they will confiscate tons of fireworks nationwide, possibly a difficult task in a country where firecrackers have been central to public celebrations for hundreds of years.
Vendors complained that they were being deprived of a major source of income. Peru imported an estimated 940 tons of fireworks just for this holiday season, officials said.
Hundreds of teary-eyed relatives and friends gathered outside the Lima morgue Monday, clutching photographs of people they believed had perished in the fire. The mourners were waiting to identify relatives, many after spending the night outside.
Government officials said that some bodies would never be recovered and that others were so charred that those seeking missing loved ones were not being allowed to view them.