Calif. fireworks accident injures more than 30

By Gillian Flaccus

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 5 2013 2:00 p.m. MDT

In this Thursday, July 4, 2013, photo, a triage area is set up at Ranch Santa Susana Community Park in Simi Valley, Calif. As many as 10,000 Fourth of July revelers were just settling into their seats for the fireworks show at a Simi Valley park when a bright plume of red and white bursts spread across the ground, injuring 28 people and sending others fleeing for safety. (AP Photo/The Ventura County Star,Wendy Pierro) LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS OUT

Wendy Pierro, AP

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — As many as 10,000 Fourth of July revelers were just settling into their seats for the fireworks show at a Simi Valley park when a bright plume of red and white bursts spread across the ground, injuring more than 30 people and sending others fleeing for safety.

Police in the city northwest of Los Angeles were still investigating what caused Thursday night's explosion. They said the cause was still unknown, although they had earlier indicated it appeared a firework detonated prematurely in its mortar, knocking over a row of others.

A view of the scene from a distance Friday morning showed groups of mortars held vertically in box-like wooden structures sitting on the ground. In front of them, a number of mortar tubes lay horizontally scattered on the ground. Cellphone videos captured fireworks exploding in spheres of sparks close to the ground, with smoke and people screaming.

The victims ranged in age from 8 to 78 years old, Sgt. Tom Meyer said. A total of 20 people were taken by ambulance to area hospitals. Four suffered serious, but not life-threatening, injuries.

One police officer who ran into the crowd when the blasts occurred had shrapnel tear through his leather belt and his clothing, Shannon said. He had minor injuries to his back.

On Friday morning, blackened debris from the explosion littered the ground. Huge chunks of black shrapnel were still scattered across the park and the stand the fireworks had been on was sitting, charred, in the middle of a green lawn. Investigators planned to fly over the scene to photograph it and examine the debris, Meyer said.

The fireworks company, Bay Fireworks, said in a statement that it regrets the injuries, and planned a thorough investigation, with results to be made public.

The company also said that injured spectators should contact the Simi Valley Rotary Club to reach the company's insurer. The annual July Fourth celebration has been sponsored by the city and the local Rotary Club for the past 43 years.

The company, based in Bethpage, N.Y., has produced events for NASA, Walt Disney World, Legoland and the Republican National Convention, according to the company's website.

The mishap came a year after a fireworks show in San Diego exploded in about 20 seconds and sent multiple bulb-shaped explosions over the bay. The show's producer blamed a "technical glitch," saying an error in its computer system caused tens of thousands of fireworks on four barges to go off simultaneously with a single command.

That show was not produced by Bay Fireworks.

A video clip of the Simi Valley accident that aired on KCAL-TV shows a pair of firework blasts at or near the ground. Another clip, posted on YouTube and shot from a distance, shows three ground-level bursts. The fireworks continue for almost another minute before stopping.

Colette Schmidt, who lives across the street from the park and had about 150 guests over to watch the fireworks from their front lawn, said they could tell almost immediately that something went wrong.

Two regular fireworks went off, she said, and then others started exploding at ground level and shooting off horizontally toward the crowd "like a fan."

One hit the ground across from their home, leaving a crater, and bounced twice before shooting up over nearby trees and exploding in a puff of reddish-purple smoke, sad Schmidt's daughter, Alessi Smith.

The family herded their guests inside and drew the blinds as sparks and embers rained down. Sparks set a dry field next door on fire, but the flames were quickly put out.

"It was terrible but we were so blessed because we had 150 people here and not one single spark hit our house," she said. "It was all around us, but nothing here."

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