- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

Fire investigators yesterday said faulty explosives caused injuries to 13 persons in July Fourth fireworks shows in Vienna and on the Mall.

“The overall responsibility is to the manufacturer,” said Fairfax County Battalion Chief Keith H. Johnson. Eleven persons, including five children, were taken to hospitals.

Gregg Smith, spokesman for American Pyrotechnics Association, which conducted the annual fireworks show on the Mall, said the blasts that injured two male employees, ages 42 and 45, came nearly 35 minutes after the show near the Washington Monument ended.

“This was a terrible accident,” he said. “It was a dangerous job.”

Investigators said one of the victims was critically injured, but they declined to release the victims” names. They also said the investigations have not been completed.

Chief Johnson said the accident at the show near Vienna Elementary School occurred at about 9:45 p.m., when a mortar rocket exploded inside a box containing 25 other fireworks, sending them flying into a crowd of spectators.

“I was close by and saw it happen,” said Chief Johnson, adding that the nearest crowd was at least 280 feet away, as planned.

Other precautions planned weeks before July Fourth included stacking 600 to 800 pounds of sandbags around the boxes of fireworks. Three fire inspectors had inspected the setup twice Wednesday before the show. The display was conducted by Schaefer Pyrotechnics Inc. of Ronks, Pa., which has a five-year contract with the town that began with the 2004 show.

Fire officials said several firefighters and paramedics were at the event as spectators and responded within seconds. Seven victims, including the five children, were transported to hospitals. Four victims were treated at the scene.

“Several thousand people were at the show,” said Marie Kisner, a spokeswoman for the town of Vienna. “There was chaos, screaming, yelling, crying.”

The Vienna fireworks display was one of 12 in Fairfax County. No injuries were reported in the others, although similar “malfunctions” were reported at four shows.

In Washington, a helicopter transported the most seriously injured man from the Mall. He remained hospitalized yesterday, Mr. Smith said. The other man was treated for burns and released.

Officials said the men thought that any delinquent mortars would be cool before they walked near the site of the launches and the explosions occurred.

Nearly 3,000 shells were set off successfully during the display at the Mall.

Most of the fireworks at the Mall and in Vienna were manufactured in China, investigators said.

“Eighty-five percent of display fireworks are made in China,” said Mr. Smith, adding that 98 percent of common fireworks, like firecrackers, are also made in China.

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