Launch Platform Malfunction Suspected in Southern California Fireworks Explosion

Authorities are investigating whether a launching station fell over, spraying fireworks at spectators

By Samantha Tata, Oleevia Woo and Jonathan Lloyd
|  Friday, Jul 5, 2013  |  Updated 4:37 PM EDT
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Fire Official Discusses Fireworks Explosion

Ventura County fire officials discussed the investigation into a fireworks blast that injured spectators in Simi Valley. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Friday July 5, 2013.

Crews Examine Fireworks Debris

Crews cleared a debris field left behind by what appears to be a malfunction at a fireworks show in Simi Valley. Toni Guinyard reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Friday July 5, 2013.
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Fourth of July celebrants were injured Thursday night when fireworks exploded into a crowd at a Southern California park after what authorities said is likely an accident involving one of the launching stations.

Caught on Video: Spectator's View of Explosion

Simi Valley authorities called the detonation a "fireworks mishap," and it appeared that a platform to hold the fireworks had given way. At least one of the firework launching stations fell over after the contents were ignited, according to a Simi Valley Police Department statement.

"Although it is still unknown why the launching station fell over, there are no indications of foul play and it appears that this is an industrial type accident," the statement continued.

New York-based Bay Fireworks, the company that set up the show, released a statement Friday morning: "Bay Fireworks deeply regrets that people were injured during the Simi Valley fireworks display. Public safety has always been a major priority of Bay Fireworks.

"The highly qualified staff of Bay Fireworks is trained on a regular basis in the procedures to properly set up and discharge a fireworks display. Our equipment has been inspected and approved by authorities. Our displays, like the one in Simi Valley, are properly permitted through the local authorities."

The crowd was about 800 feet -- more than the length of two football fields -- away from the launch area, Simi Valley police said. Fire officials did not confirm that figure at a mid-day news conference, but said the distance is usually based on the size of the mortar shell, said Mike Laplant, deputy chief with the Ventura County Fire Department.

"We're just confirming what we believe to be true," said Laplant. "That the distances were at or beyond the prescribed distances for the size of the shell."

At least 28 victims -- ranging in age from 8 to 78 years old -- were injured. Eight people were treated at the scene. Others were hospitalized, four with serious injuries such as burns and cuts.

"We saw a lot of burns," said Kim Milstien, president and CEO of Simi Valley Hospital. "We saw some shrapnel injuries, some trampling-like injuries and chest pain."

A 17-year-old female was transported to Grossman Burn Center, and two adult males were treated for trampling injuries and chest pain, Milstien added. None of the injuries were life threatening.

Two patients tranferred to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center were treated and released.

Fire officials did not comment on the possible malfunction that caused the blast at the mid-day news conference.

"We've heard plenty of stories about what might have happened," said Laplant.

Cal OSHA, the state's occupational heath and safety agency, was notified, but none of the injuries involved employees of the fireworks company so the agency will not be involved in the investigation, according to fire officials. The state fire marshal's office is the lead investigative agency in the case, according to Ventura County fire officials.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people had been expected to attend the Independence Day celebration Thursday night. Witnesses said the professional fireworks show lasted just a few minutes before the huge explosion went off.

"Everything exploded and parts came flying everywhere,” a witness told NBC4. “People were running everywhere. So, it was pretty scary."

The blast happened about 9:20 p.m. at Rancho Santa Susana Community Center and Park (map), said Cmdr. John Parks, a watch commander for the Simi Valley Police Department. Emergency medical and fire personnel were already at the park to monitor the fireworks show, so the victims were attended to quickly, Parks said.

Debris remained scattered on the field early Friday as authorities continued the investigation. The area was blocked off as crews removed unexploded ordnance.

Most of the fireworks were not launched and remained in their mortars unexploded.

The park was evacuated after the blast, Parks said. Aerial footage showed dozens of people lingering on the outskirts of the scene and near the triage area set up on the grass, pictured below.

Simi Valley is located about 41 miles northwest of Los Angeles. 

 


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