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Victim says fireworks blast was without warning

Martez Holland, 27, was one of five people from Wayne County contracted to set up a fireworks display Saturday on Ocracoke Island.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The lone survivor of a fireworks explosion that killed four people over the weekend said Tuesday that the blast happened without much warning and that he was the only one who was able to get off the truck before it blew up.

Martez Holland, 27, was one of five people from Wayne County contracted by South Carolina-based Melrose South Pyrotechnics to set up the fireworks display for Saturday's Independence Day celebration on Ocracoke Island.

"The only thing I heard was a big spark, a big boom, and then I jumped off the truck," said Holland, who suffered burns on 20 percent of his body, including his face and arms.

He was listed in fair condition Tuesday afternoon at the North Carolina Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals.

Holland said he and the crew had parked the truck Saturday morning and were getting ready to work on the fireworks' fuses when the explosion happened.

Holland's uncle, Terry Holland, 49; Mark Hill, 21; Charles Kirkland Jr., 49; and Lisa Simmons, 41, were in the center of the truck at the time of the explosion, Martez Holland said.

Terry Holland had burns on 100 percent of his body – injuries that burn center director Dr. Bruce Cairns described as "just not survivable."

At least two of the victims, Terry Holland and Simmons, were both trained to handle fireworks, family members said.

State and federal officials ruled the explosion accidental.

Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, however, said fireworks go through a series of tests and that they do not "just mass explode."

"I think what we're going to find out is that the personnel, the pyrotechnic crew, most likely violated some very well known industry-wide safety procedure," she said.

David Davis, deputy chief of operations for the Wake Forest Fire Department, who has also been responsible for fireworks shows for more than 30 years, said there could have possibly been an ignition source somewhere that could have sparked the fire.

"A battery could have fallen over inside the truck – anything that has to do with electricity," he said. "It's got to be a spark."

Federal investigators have not released further details about the blast.

Meanwhile, memorial services have been planned for the victims.

A visitation for Hill was scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Shackleford Funeral Home in Fremont.

Kirkland's funeral is Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Howell's Funeral Home in Goldsboro. Terry Holland's funeral is 1 p.m. Friday at the Lord's Table Church in Goldsboro.

Arrangements for Simmons were not finalized as of Tuesday evening, but her funeral was set for 1 p.m. Friday in Georgia. A memorial service at the Lord's Table Church is expected next week.

The Lord's Table Church, where some of the victims attended, has set up a fund to benefit the victims' families. Donations can be made by calling 919-751-8188 or by mailing checks payable to The Ocracoke Fireworks Disaster Fund, c/o The Lord's Table, P.O. Box 11049, Goldsboro, N.C. 27532.


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