Amid the fanfare of the holiday weekend, three fireworks experts were hospitalized after accidents interrupted pyrotechnic displays in Liberty Lake and Priest River.
Other explosives mishaps caused several brush fires and significant damage to a Spokane Valley apartment complex.
“I saw three things that went up that appeared to be duds,” said Denise Coyle, who helps organize the Liberty Lake display with her husband, Timothy.
Then one of the explosives seemed to go sideways, she said, and “I knew that there was something that had gone awry.”
Two of the four people launching the fireworks from a dock moored at midlake were injured in the explosion.
Jay Mcphee and Pete Black, of Entertainment Fireworks, were taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center after a spectator brought them ashore on his pontoon boat.
Mcphee was treated and released, according to the hospital. Black underwent surgery and remained in the hospital in satisfactory condition with a broken leg Tuesday.
Just before the accident, emergency personnel tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate a man who had a heart attack during the display, police said.
“The Liberty Lake community had a tough night last night,” Coyle said.
A deputy state fire marshal inspected the dock Tuesday as it was moored at the Sandy Beach Mobile Villa.
Another technician with Entertainment Fireworks was severely injured at a show Sunday in Priest River, Idaho.
David Sylvester, 54, of Spokane, was “shredded” by two blasts, said his wife, Carolyn Sylvester. On Tuesday afternoon he was receiving care at Deaconess for third-degree burns and other injuries on the left side of his body.
That accident led to the cancellation of a Monday night display that Sylvester was scheduled to oversee in Diamond Lake, Wash.
Entertainment Fireworks is investigating both incidents, said Rich Vaughan, manager of the Olympia-based company’s Spokane Valley office.
“Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with pyrotechnics, there’s no way of pretesting stuff to know if you have a problem,” Vaughan said. “Our guys were doing everything the right way.”
The company put on about 40 shows over the long weekend. In size and complexity, the Liberty Lake and Priest River displays were similar to the others, Vaughan said.
“That’s what’s so disturbing about the whole thing,” he said. He said that the company has not experienced similar accidents in the past.
Recently proposed changes to Washington rules governing fireworks displays would have required a much larger dock for the Liberty Lake display, said state Deputy Fire Marshal Larry Glenn.
“There were a lot of pyrotechnics on that barge last night,” he said Tuesday.
The new rules would have doubled the size requirement for barges holding hand-lighted displays on water. The change was dropped after several small towns and chambers of commerce said it would hurt smaller displays and many celebrations that had already been planned. Glenn said he expects the issue to resurface.
Preliminary findings in the Liberty Lake investigation point to a bad shell rather than user error, Glenn said.
“Pyro Pete” Black has worked the Liberty Lake show for 14 years without incident, said Coyle.
“This is not going to stop us, and we are going to be doing the same kind of thing next year, hopefully with no accidents,” Coyle said.
Carolyn Sylvester said she hopes accidents like the one that injured her husband serve as a warning, particularly for children.
“There is a physical danger. These men were professional … and accidents still happen,” she said. “Dave will have a daily reminder of what fireworks can do to you.”
Within minutes of the Liberty Lake accident, Spokane Valley Fire and Fire District 8 responded to a fire at an apartment complex at 32nd and University. Witnesses told investigators that shortly after 10:30 p.m. they saw a firework go into a juniper bush in front of the complex’s recreation building.
The bush went up like a torch, and the eave of the roof caught fire, said Fire Marshal Kevin Miller, of Valley Fire. The flames spread to the attic, causing $75,000 in damage, he said.
“Residents tried to get it out and couldn’t,” Miller said.
Curtis W. Anderson, 22, was arrested and charged with first-degree reckless burning in connection to the fire.
The apartment fire was one of six calls Valley Fire responded to between 9 and 11 p.m. Monday, said Randy Olson, EMS division chief. Three calls came within 25 minutes, sending crews racing from call to call.
Elsewhere in the Northwest, the past week of explosive celebration has taken its toll as well.
•A 22-year-old man in Western Montana died and a woman was injured during the cleanup of a community fireworks display Monday, when a device to launch aerial fireworks exploded, Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman said in a statement.
•Last week, six wildfires in Yakima County were blamed on fireworks, said the county’s chief criminal deputy, Dave Thompson. Fires sparked on June 28 and June 29 burned 1,100 acres, fire officials said.
•A spectator looking for a good view of the Seattle fireworks display fell 50 feet down a wooded cliff and was stuck overnight in blackberry bushes. A parks department worker heard his cries for help and a fire crew rescued him Tuesday, said Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick.
•Three small brush fires were thought to have been started by fireworks in the area of Holman Road and Rockcrest Lane and were reported to Spokane County Fire District 8 at 3 a.m. Fireworks caused a small brush fire at 29th and Havana, fire officials said.
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