A hot-air balloon caught fire during a circus stunt, killing a clown acrobat as dozens of children watched, police said Tuesday.

The accident happened Monday night as the Royal Russian Circus was performing in Scariff, County Clare, a village in western Ireland. About 100 people were in the audience, most of them children. Police said the clown was a 26-year-old man from Belarus but didn't release his name.

Witnesses said the man, dressed in a clown outfit, was hanging from a cage suspended by ropes and a hot-air balloon inside the canvas tent. When the balloon exploded in flames, the cage fell on top of the man.

The man's wife, who was also part of the act, suffered a broken arm, police said.

"We were all sitting down and they were doing their act. They were up fairly high, but they were doing fine. Next thing, he was down on the ground," said audience member Hazel Harrington. She said many people in the audience initially thought the falling cage was part of the act.

About a half-dozen circuses, employing mostly Eastern European performers, tour Ireland each summer.

CountryWatch: Ireland