Avon fireworks mishap caused by early detonation
VAIL — While thousands gathered Saturday at the town’s annual Independence Day parade, one question was circulating through the crowds: What happened in Avon on Friday night?
Like the fireworks themselves, chaos and confusion exploded along the shores of Nottingham Lake at about 10 p.m. when Avon’s annual July 3 fireworks show ended early due to a misfire of several explosives.
According to Avon officials, a shell exploded in its tube rather than firing correctly into the sky, causing a rack of 5-inch shells to tip and shoot two or three fireworks across the lake and into the crowd. Nine individuals were evaluated, treated for minor burns and released by medical personnel on the scene, Avon Police Lieutenant Greg Daly told the Vail Daily on Saturday, with one of the nine individuals later self-admitted to the emergency room at the Vail Valley Medical Center for follow up. That person was treated and released.
“From my medical sources, there is no information to support that anyone else was seen at VVMC for further follow up,” Daly reported. “There is no information to support that anyone else was treated at any Denver hospital and I can confirm that there was no Flight for Life from Vail to Denver for any patient related to this incident.”
All and all, “The crowd was exceptional in its calm response to what could have been a much more serious incident,” Daly said. “Police, fire and emergency medical staff responded to the incident in less than one minute. Four ambulances were assigned to the event in addition to one paramedic supervisor, so experienced medical personnel were ready to respond quickly.”
Daly, who has been with the Avon Police Department since 2008, said in Avon’s 29 years of presenting “one of the most spectacular fireworks displays in Colorado, we have never had any failure in the production.”
But former Avon Fire Chief Charles Moore says that’s not accurate in his eyes. Moore was Avon’s fire chief from 1989 to 2000, and the Eagle River Fire & Protection District’s chief from 2000 to 2011.
“I don’t recall anybody being hurt, but we have had malfunctions,” Moore said. “One year there were some fireworks set up on the Bachelor Gulch hill. I tried to get that stopped, but I couldn’t, and of course it set the hillside on fire. One time the vendor wanted to do a mushroom cloud effect, I said no, they went ahead and did it anyway and it basically threw napalm all over the mortar tubes. In one of the first or second shows Avon ever did there were some shells that exploded over some vehicles in the Benchmark mobile home park, causing a lot of damage to vehicles there. All of that never resulted in any injuries, but we have had our share of spot fires.”
Moore was not at Friday’s fireworks show, but his son, 18-year-old Cameron Moore, was in attendance this year, as he has been nearly every year of his life.
“He told me he was nearly hit,” Charlie Moore said Saturday.
That first hand account leads Moore to believe the safety margins in effect Friday weren’t large enough.
“It was somewhat astonishing to me to hear that there was a misfire that came all the way across the lake to where the pumphouse is, that seems like a long way for a 5-inch shell to travel,” Moore said. “When you figure what the distance between the firing point and where the spectators can’t be any closer, it’s sometimes not always cut and dry, but you have to look at if a mortar were lowered from it’s normal one-and-a-half degrees and shoots right at the crowd, you have to know the distance that mortar is going to travel, and then add on a safety margin.”
Avon Town Manager Virginia Egger, in a press release issued Saturday, said the 23-minute fireworks show, produced by Western Enterprises, experienced the shell burst at about 17 minutes into the show and an investigation into the cause of the malfunction began immediately after the incident.
Wildfires have become more numerous, bigger and more destructive in the past 40 years. That’s a big deal in a town surrounded by public land.