Shell Malfunctions Cited at 2 Fireworks Shows

State fire officials are investigating a fireworks explosion at ground level at a Fourth of July Simi Valley fireworks show that injured at least 41

By Amy Taxin and Gillian Flaccus
|  Tuesday, Jul 9, 2013  |  Updated 8:08 AM PDT
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First Responders Describe Scene of July 4 Fireworks Explosion

Authorities were trying to figure out what caused fireworks to explode at ground-level injuring at least 41 on July 4, 2013 in Simi Valley.

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Firework Explosion Victims

Some of the people injured at Thursday night explosion of fireworks in Simi Valley are talking about their experience. Beverly White reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on July 5 2013.

Simi Valley Fireworks Explosion Victims Recall Terror

An apparent industrial accident in Simi Valley caused fireworks to shoot toward a Fourth of July crowd. Some 41 people were injured, with the youngest victim just 17 months old. Beverly White reports from Simi Valley for NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Friday, July 5, 2013.
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A fireworks company said bad fireworks appear to have caused a blast that injured more than three dozen people at a show in Simi Valley and triggered problems at another of its Fourth of July events.

Dennis Brady Jr., chief executive of Bethpage, N.Y.-based Bay Fireworks, said an apparent shell malfunction in Laguna Hills, however, did not send fireworks flying toward the crowd.

Troubles also were reported at shows in San Juan Capistrano and Ojai, where a worker was injured. Although fireworks accidents at professional shows are rare, a worker also was injured in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a fireworks barge caught fire on a Montana lake.

“We did experience a similar shell malfunction at Laguna Hills using the same product,” Brady wrote in an email. “Thankfully we did not experience the same chain reaction.”

Both incidents appear to have been caused by a shell malfunction, he said, but the company is waiting for official findings to be released.

State fire officials are investigating the cause of the accident in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. The explosion sent shrapnel flying and wounded 39 people as many in the crowd of thousands fled. Police initially speculated that a firework exploded prematurely in its mortar, knocking over others and aiming them across the field.

Pyrotechnic operator Bruce Sussin said inspectors checked the site before the show and everything was fine, until fireworks began setting each other off.

“Once that occurred and we realized we had a catastrophic failure, we immediately reached back and turned off the computer. … The show immediately shut down,” Sussin said.

In Laguna Hills, City Manager Bruce Channing said that show was shut down almost as soon as it started by a fire marshal because one mortar exploded at or near the ground.

Channing said the city is seeking a refund.

“We'd certainly like to have a better understanding of what occurred,” he said. “I don't think it's ever expected that a firework will prematurely discharge … so when it happens there's little other explanation to offer initially beyond bad product.”

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