Investigators probe fireworks mishap

Cape Cod Times
8 July 1997
By Jeffrey Burt 
FALMOUTH - State fire officials continued their investigation yesterday into the explosion at the July 4 fireworks display, while the man most seriously injured in the mishap awaits word on whether he will need skin grafts to repair his badly burned leg.

Investigators with the state fire marshal's office hoped to wrap up their probe into any fire violations on the barge by the end of the week, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokesman with the state Department of Fire Services. She said investigators expected to interview yesterday those injured during the fire on the barge.

"We're still trying to figure out what happened," Mieth said.

Meanwhile, Steven Camp lay in his bed at Massachusetts General Hospital with second- and third-degree burns on his right leg. The 45-year-old Groton, N.H., man was injured when a 12-inch shell blew up prematurely, igniting other explosives and setting the 130-foot barge on fire as 30,000 people watched from the shore.

Camp, who was listed in fair condition, said yesterday doctors will determine within the next couple of days whether he will need grafts to replace the burned skin on his legs. "That's the way (the doctors) seem to be leaning," he said.

Camp, who was giving shells to runners, who then put them into the tubes for firing, said the show in Falmouth Harbor was going well until halfway through the $25,000 display, when debris from the shell that misfired started falling on the barge.

He brushed some of the burning debris away, but a "star" - the component that gives fireworks their color - apparently rolled under the rubber tarp that covered the unexploded fireworks.

"I remember seeing (the fire starting); that's when I burned my leg," said Camp, who was in his second year with Atlas Advanced Pyrotechnics of Jaffrey, N.H. "Once I saw that, there wasn't much I could do."

Camp said he started running through explosions and fire until he got to the back of the barge.

"I climbed out of the back of the barge," he said. "I saw my pantleg was on fire, so I put that out. I just kind of laid there until the noise was over."

When he looked over, he saw that everything on the barge was on fire. "It was the eeriest thing I ever saw."

The heat generated by the blaze was so hot that it melted a steel toolbox on the barge.

"I was amazed nobody was killed," Camp said.

Wayne Desrosiers, general manager of Atlas, said his company is trying to find out who manufactured the shell that misfired. While the company makes its own fireworks, most of those used in July 4 displays are made in China, he said.

Desrosiers said his company put on 200 fireworks displays over the holiday weekend, including the one in Washington, D.C. The company also had fireworks shows in Wellfleet, Orleans, Bourne, Mashpee, Barnstable and Onset.

There were misfirings in Falmouth and Portland, Maine, and a shift in the wind caused ash to be blown onto the audience in a Connecticut display, which shut down that show.

This was the company's 16th year putting on the Falmouth display, and Arthur Ratsy, who heads the organizing committee for the annual Falmouth event, said this weekend Atlas will be back for a 17th year.

Desrosiers said despite the problems, he is comfortable with the way his company operates the displays, "that doesn't mean that we as an industry won't look into it."

"I don't know if we need to shoot the bigger shells anymore," he said. "Maybe we bring the barges in closer (to the shore) and shoot smaller shells."

There were several accidents in fireworks displays July 4, including one in Portsmouth, N.H., and another in Illinois that killed three people.

Copyright © 1997 Cape Cod Times. All rights reserved.

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