Grass fire interrupts fireworks at Fort Worth’s Fourth celebration

Posted Friday, Jul. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The man behind Thursday’s fireworks show on the Trinity River promised an exciting evening.

But showgoers likely preferred that the pyrotechnics remain in the sky.

The 28-minute Fort Worth’s Fourth fireworks show, which capped an afternoon and evening of events at Panther Island Pavilion, was delayed for several minutes when falling debris from the fireworks ignited several small grass fires.

Some of the estimated 55,000 in attendance, believing that the show might be over, began leaving, unable to hear the announcements about technical difficulties.

The fire call, which came about 9:50 p.m., was the most visible on a hectic night for Fort Worth crews. Calls poured into the fireworks hotline as people reported Independence Day revelers illegally shooting off fireworks, said Tim Hardeman, a Fire Department spokesman.

Two trucks were on standby at the Fort Worth show as a precaution, one provided at city expense and the second paid for by the organizers.

Eleven more units were sent when the grass caught fire, said Mike Wagner, president of Mansfield-based Extreme Pyrotechnics, which put on the show.

The flames broke out during the first half of the show, which featured fireworks sent as gifts from Nagaoka, Japan, in recognition of its 25th year of being Fort Worth’s Sister City.

Wagner said the Japanese fireworks behave differently than other kinds. Paper bags holding powder that lifts the shell into the air were catching fire, sending burning debris to the grass below.

Also, the show included some long-duration shells that were still burning as they hit the ground.

As the second half of the computer choreographed program began, Wagner said, the flames began to get too close to racks containing hundreds of unexploded shells, so he shut the show down. It was the first time he’d ever had to make such a decision.

“It was precautionary. It wasn’t dangerous, but I didn’t want it to become dangerous,” he said.

The show was stopped for about 12 minutes, said Matt Oliver, a spokesman for the Trinity River Vision Authority, which sponsored the show.

During the delay, organizers played music and made several announcements asking everyone to stay, Oliver said.

Wagner’s crew worked to restart the show where it left off. They replaced burned wiring and rewound the music to sync it with the explosions.

A few nearby fires were still burning when he gave the green light to resume, he said, but those threatening the show had been extinguished.

Wagner told the Star-Telegram this week that part of the Japanese show featured 8-inch shells, “the biggest shell we’ve ever shot in Fort Worth.”

The second 16 minutes of the program were billed as a Texas-style show, using Chinese and U.S.-made fireworks, and the finale featured a “wall of fire” effect that some spectators mistook for an explosion.

“That fireball wasn’t a malfunction of a firework,” Oliver said. “That was completely planned to go off that way. It was the same one that went off last year, but bigger.”

Fort Worth fire officials on Friday were still tallying the number of July Fourth fireworks calls. Preliminary figures showed 900 fireworks violations calls and more than 100 grass, brush and outside fires.

Last year, the department confiscated 751 pounds of fireworks, which the arson/bomb squad later destroyed. This year, several hundred pounds have been confiscated.

Investigators say fireworks sparked at least one structure fire, at a building on Cedar Springs Drive near Saginaw.

One firefighter was injured Thursday after crews arrived at Cavile Place Apartments off Avenue G on the city’s east side and youngsters outside began shooting fireworks at them, Hardeman said.

The firefighter was working to put out a small grass fire when the youngsters began firing “projectile-type fireworks” at the brush truck.

“One of the devices detonated close enough to the firefighter to cause minor burns, and it also affected his hearing,” Hardeman said in a news release.

Officials could not identify the perpetrator, the release said. There were no reports of other injuries, Hardeman said.

Fireworks are illegal without a permit in Fort Worth and up to 5,000 feet outside the city limits. Generally, in Texas, residents can shoot fireworks only in unincorporated areas.

Tarrant County fire crews were also busy Thursday, after receiving more than 25 calls for grass and brush fires. Most were sparked by fireworks, including one that broke out about 7:30 p.m. near Rendon and threatened several homes, said Randy Renois, Tarrant County fire marshal.

Several houses were evacuated, but none burned, Renois said.

“We feel pretty certain it was fireworks,” he said. “Where it started was in a pasture. It wasn’t the cows out there setting fires.”

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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