A Fourth of July celebration turned tragic in Southern California on Thursday night when fireworks shot into a crowd of as many as 10,000 people in what authorities said appears to have be an accident, injuring nearly three dozen people.
The chaotic scene in Simi Valley, Calif., was caused by an apparent malfunction, sending families waiting for a fireworks display rushing for cover only seconds into the show.
"What we understand is potentially one of the launching stations fell over, resulting in ignited fireworks going into the crowd," Simi Valley police spokesman Sergeant Tom Meyer told Reuters.
There was no sign of foul play, Simi Valley police said in a statement.
Police, fire and hospital officials say at least 34 people went to hospitals for treatment. Twenty were taken by ambulance and 14 went to hospitals in private vehicles. At least two remain hospitalized, both adults in "fair" condition.
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Witnesses described the mayhem.
“It was just a loud explosion,” witness Michelle Rodriguez told the TODAY show. “We felt the heat pull back towards us.”
“That one row, all of the fireworks went off,” James Wilhite, who also saw the fireworks shot into the crowd, told NBC Los Angeles. “They were actually aiming at us.”
Many of the injuries appeared to be “like shrapnel injuries,” Ventura County Fire Department Capt. Mike Lindberry said. Among the people injured were four who were considered “immediate transports,” Lindberry said, meaning they suffered moderate to severe injuries.
Other people suffered minor injuries, and were transported to area hospitals. None of the injuries were considered to be life threatening.
Lindberry said that the crowd was kept at least 350 feet from where the fireworks were launched, a distance required by the fire code.
Authorities said it appeared that a structure supporting the fireworks gave way, tilting them into the crowd. Eyewitness accounts and videos of the show gone dangerously wrong appear to show the fireworks launching horizontally.
“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 Simi Valley Police Department said in a statement.
“At this point there are absolutely no indications of foul play,” said Simi Valley Police Cmdr. Stephanie Shannon. “We will try to determine to our best ability exactly what’s happened.”
The company that put on the show, Bay Fireworks, said in a statement Friday that it “deeply regrets” the incident.
“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,” the company said, adding that it will conduct its own investigation into what went wrong.
First published July 5 2013, 7:05 AM