30 Hurt In Calif. Blast

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) – When a July Fourth fireworks display exploded and sent red and white bursts into spectators at a Southern California park, Paulina Mulkern saw shrapnel heading straight for her 4-year-old cousin.

Mulkern threw the child under a lawn chair, and then shielded her 7-year-old cousin with her body as scorching debris flew overhead.

“You feel the big old heat come right over your back,” she said Friday, still shaking as she recounted the explosion the night before that left her with bruises and red marks on her back.

More than 30 people were injured, as many in the crowd of thousands fled for safety. The victims, from 17 months to 78 years old, had burns and shrapnel wounds, and some were trampled, authorities and hospital officials said.

Mulkern said she went into shock after the near-hit, trembling so badly she had to be carried to a road where rescuers stripped off most of her clothes and wrapped her in a blanket.

Police in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles, had earlier said it appeared a firework exploded prematurely in its mortar, knocking over others and aiming them across the field. Fire investigators, however, said later they had not yet determined a cause.

Among the questions investigators were trying to answer was whether the pyrotechnics display was set far enough away from spectators, and even if all the rules were followed, whether those guidelines needed to be revised so that the public is kept farther back from launch sites.

Authorities said regulations require the crowd be kept 70 feet away for every inch diameter of the largest shell used.

The largest shell at the display was likely five inches in diameter, meaning the spectators should have been at least 350 feet away from the launch site at the show put on by Bethpage, N.Y.-based Bay Pyrotechnics, said Ventura County Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike LaPlant.

Police said the fireworks rained down on a crowd that was at least 800 feet away. The distance of spectators from the show will be one of many factors considered by investigators, he said.

“We’re just confirming what we feel to be true, which is that the distances were either at or beyond the normal distances, the prescribed distances, for that sized shell,” he said.

The company said it regretted that spectators were injured and that it planned to publicly release the results of a thorough investigation.

The blast was among several fireworks mishaps on Thursday, including errant explosions injuring workers at shows in Ojai, Calif., and North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a fireworks barge that caught fire in Montana at the start of the grand finale.

In the Simi Valley explosion, cellphone videos captured a frantic scene in which fireworks were exploding in spheres of sparks close to the ground, and smoke enveloped the park grounds. People were heard screaming.

The mishap came a year after a fireworks show in San Diego exploded in about 20 seconds and sent multiple bulb-shaped explosions over the bay.