Local News

Belhaven official: Failed fireworks came from truck that exploded

Posted July 10, 2009 6:46 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2009 6:36 a.m. EDT

— Belhaven Town Manager Guinn Leverett said several fireworks that malfunctioned in his town’s annual Independence Day display came from the same truck that exploded on Ocracoke Island July 4.

Four people were killed and a fifth was injured when the load of fireworks on the truck exploded. All five had been contracted to set up the fireworks display on Ocracoke Island.

“The truck unloaded here and the same truck went on to Ocracoke Island,” Leverett said.

Some fireworks at the Belhaven show over Pantego Creek were shooting low. About 80 of the 240 fireworks did not go off. One of the rounds exploded in the canister, he said, starting a fire that was quickly put out. There were no injuries.

“We just had a variety of failures,” Leverett said.

The fireworks came from South Carolina-based Melrose South Pyrotechnics.

Julie Heckman, executive director of the Maryland-based American Pyrotechnics Association, said it is unusual to have a failure rate as high as Belhaven incurred. She believes Belhaven’s problems were caused by a problem with the wiring or the setup, not the product.

Someone from Belhaven’s fire department set off the fireworks remotely with an electronic ignition system. Leverett said that person was about 100 feet away.

In a statement to WRAL News on Friday, Melrose’s attorney, John H. Brooke, said the Belhaven Fire Department “placed an order for fireworks material only and did not ask for a display operator from Melrose. The Fire Department claimed that they had personnel that could conduct the display. Any problems with the display were not the result of defective fireworks product.”

Brooke also said sources that investigated the incident found “the material was not properly prepared for display by the fire department and then left, unfired, in the tubes after the display, in direct contravention of proper industry standards.”

The fireworks used by Belhaven were the same products used in more than 300 displays this July 4, and no other display reported any defective products, Brooke said.

Leverett said the town's fireworks operator was trained in a workshop offered by Melrose.

After the Ocracoke Island explosion, Leverett said town personnel decided to go through with their fireworks display because they were able to test their fireworks using the electrical ignition system. He said everything looked fine prior to the display.

Belhaven used Melrose-supplied fireworks last year. Leverett said they will be investigating their options for next year.