Local News

Fireworks make welcome return to Ocracoke after deadly 2009 accident

Posted July 3, 2016 10:56 p.m. EDT
Updated July 4, 2016 4:24 p.m. EDT

— The fireworks everybody will watch Monday night are safer because of a deadly accident in 2009.

Four people were killed setting up a fireworks display on Ocracoke Island and that accident brought changes to laws regulating professional fireworks. The Village of Ocracoke hasn’t had another fireworks display until Sunday night.

“Fourth of July is a big celebration, with or without them, but especially with them,” said Gail Sievert, who brought the whole family from Johnston County to watch the fireworks display.

It’s been seven years since Ocracoke had fireworks. Reid Robinson was on his boat when the deadly 2009 explosion happened, and he compared it to war.

“It was deafening. I mean, the physical shock compressed your chest. It was an 8 ton bomb going off,” he said.

The explosion can still be felt and the village still mourns those killed in the blast. But, fireworks and the Fourth of July are inseparable and businesses were ready for the display to come back.

Bob Chestnut, who owns the island’s only surf shop, said there has been a decline in business since the fireworks stopped.

“Prior to that accident, Fourth of July was probably 10 percent of our sales for the whole year. Now it’s less than half of that,” Chestnut said. “We’re competing for tourist dollars with people all over the counrty. We can’t control sharks, we can’t control the weather, we can’t control the ferry route having to change but we can have fireworks and that’s something that would have a positive impact.”

The return of the fireworks display is an impact that reaches further than tourism.

“Everybody seems to be happy when they see them and excited when they see them,” Sievert said.

The new regulations are so strict, Ocracoke didn’t have anybody who qualified to run the fireworks display and had to bring in a fire official from a neighboring county. The village used $20,000 from tourism tax to pay for the display.