Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bizarre Accident Explodes Towns' Fireworks in Advance--But Show Went On

I thought it must be a hoax, but no--a freak accident exploded the boxcar-sized container full of the fireworks shows for two towns here in the Northwest, on the eve of Independence Day.

One of the shows is a favorite of ours, the July 3rd display in the Norwegian fjord community of Poulsbo. We go there every year by ferry, and stake out a viewing spot with the thousands who enjoy live bands, carnival food and booths on the shores of Liberty Bay. But this time, the much-anticipated festivities were weirdly placed in jeopardy.

Here's what happened: Poulsbo and neighboring Bainbridge Island contracted with fireworks aficionado (a mortgage specialist by trade) Robert Nitz to put on their shows. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nitz does the sideline because "I love fireworks," and last year even lost $1,366 on the displays. This year, he'd invested either $30,000 or $80,000 (news accounts differ) of the two towns' money in his cache, which was stored on a spare corner of a car-wrecking business in the town of Belfair. Depending on which accounts you read, either two male employees or the yard's owner and daughter, all of whom remain, curiously, unnamed, then did something bizarre.

The father and daughter (or two employees) decided at 1 am June 25 to go into the yard and try out a new rifle. Wee-hours target practice, you might say.

The story is that a bullet aimed toward a wreck ricocheted off into the room-sized metal fireworks storage container, setting off the entirety of both shows.

The fireworks container, after it had flipped over twice from exploding
It felt like an earthquake lasting a full minute to neighbors several miles surrounding. It "shook out of bed" the wife of Jeromy Hicks, the Mason County Fire District investigator immediately called to the scene. The explosion also burnt out cars and ignited a large pile of tires nearby. In fact, mortars were still going off when firefighters arrived, and they had to employ a huge claw to pull the still-erupting, flaming mess apart. Squelching the conflagration took them five hours.

Reporters can't say this, but I can: What kind of idiot shoots rifles next to a packed cache of fireworks? At 1 am, to boot? Could there have been some, uh, celebratory imbibing involved?

Show producer Nitz scrambled to put together replacement pyrotechnics, albeit without his showcase addition this year, called "water shells." He succeeded, and last night my family again enjoyed the brilliant display over Liberty Bay.

Poulsbo readies for its July 3 celebration, 2012
And the unidentified car-wrecking yard owner? Well, as far as known, while his insurance covers wrecking cars--and in this debacle some were indeed wrecked--it doesn't cover stray bullet-destruction of fireworks.  According to Poulsbo festival organizer Ron Krell, "He readily admits it. He knew the container was there, he knew the container contained fireworks, he accepts responsibility." But producer Nitz covered the extra cost, though viewers in the many boats gathered to watch the show were asked to contribute cash into fishing nets offered their way.

Happy Independence Day...

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