July 5,  2009

UPDATE…..Fourth person dies from
injuries from fireworks truck explosion


A fourth person has died from injuries suffered yesterday, July 4, when a truck loaded with fireworks exploded on Ocracoke Island.

The dead were all from a crew of five workers from Melrose South Pyrotechnics of Catawba, S.C., who were setting up for the holiday fireworks on Ocracoke when the truck exploded in the parking lot of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching campus on the island.

According to Hyde County public information officer Jamie Tunnell, one fatality occurred on site yesterday morning. Two crew members were transferred to Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C., for care and were confirmed fatalities early this afternoon by the Hyde County Sherriff’s Department.

The other two were transferred to a University of North Carolina’s Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., for care. One of those two workers died yesterday. The other crew member has burns over 20 percent of his body and is listed in fair condition, according to hospital authorities.

At the time of the explosion, Tunnell said in a media release, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department and Hyde County Emergency Medical Services crews were already on site for safety precautions during the set-up.

There were no critically injured bystanders or volunteers, but two volunteer firemen were transported to Outer Banks Hospital for observation and treatment of inhalation and exhaustion. One firefighter was released Saturday night and the other firefighter was released today.

An investigation of the site and cause of the explosion continued today with representatives of the state Federal Bureau of Investigation (SBI), Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD). Representatives from Melrose Pyrotechnics were on the island today to assist with the investigation.

ATF, along with the other representatives, has determined that it was an accident that occurred during the setup of the July 4 show.

Melrose South Pyrotechnics issued a media release yesterday to say that the company is working with federal and local officials to determine the cause of the accident.

“These types of incidents,” the release said, “are difficult to determine what really happened until all aspects of the investigation are complete.  Melrose South Pyrotechnics personnel arrived on the site last night to assist investigators in this matter. A meeting was held at the scene and the Melrose South personnel were given an overview of the incident.”

Neither Hyde County officials nor the company has identified the dead workers.

However, a member of The Lord’s Table Church in Goldsboro, N.C., who did not want to be identified, said that the four who died were all from that area and members of the church.

“Along with their normal, full-time jobs, a few of our members did these fireworks setups for years,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Island Free Press. “Those who died in Saturday's explosion were Terry Holland, Charles Kirkland Jr., Lisa Simmons, and Mark Hill.  The one who survived was Terry Holland's nephew.”

The e-mail continued:

“Terry Holland was our maintenance director and was involved in just about every aspect of the church's day to day existence -- always there to help, to set things up, clean up, greeting at the door, oversee special events, and kept the church running in tip top shape.

Lisa Simmons was a sweet, hard working single mom raising a young son and was also involved in different ministries and helps in the church.
Charles Kirkland, Jr., had recently moved back to Goldsboro to be near his parents.  His father, Charles Kirkland, is one of our pastors and oversees the seniors, along with several other duties.  They had just remarked what a gift it was to have him back home and how much they treasured the time together.”

Fourth of July activities on Ocracoke Island were canceled yesterday.

There was a silent parade today at 3 p.m. to honor and memorialize the fireworks company’s employees and pay tribute to the emergency personnel and community volunteers who responded to yesterday’s tragedy.

“If there is anything positive that can come from a tragedy like this, it is the reaction of our community, neighbors, emergency personnel, and local and state authorities who cooperated to provide the best care and maintain safety of the island yesterday,” said Rudy Austin, president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association. “We were honored to have the opportunity to thank our local responders for their work and show our support and grief to the families of the victims.”

All ferries to and from Ocracoke are now open and running on regular schedule.

July 4,  2009

Three people die and two are critically injured
in explosion of fireworks truck on Ocracoke


Three people were killed and two were critically injured today on Ocracoke in an explosion of a tractor-trailer truck carrying fireworks for a July 4 display.

The truck, which had arrived on Ocracoke last evening, was in the parking lot of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching campus, where the fireworks were to be set off tonight, when the explosion happened. The campus is near the ferry docks in the village.

The victims were all employees of Melrose Pyrotechnics, Inc., out of South Carolina, the company that was to mount the fireworks display.

One victim died at the scene. The four critically injured employees were transported off Ocracoke on two helicopters from East Care, out of Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, N.C., and one from Dare MedFlight, out of Dare County. Two were taken to Pitt County Memorial Hospital, and another two were taken to the burn center at the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill.

One of the two injured transported to Chapel Hill died later in the day, as did one employee taken to Pit Memorial.

Two members of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department were transported to Outer Banks Hospital by Dare County Emergency Medical Services to be treated for smoke inhalation and exhaustion.

The names of the victims and their conditions were not available this afternoon.

The explosion happened at about 9 a.m. as the Melrose employees were preparing to transfer the pyrotechnics to a smaller truck to transport them a short distance to the point at Silver Lake Harbor for the display.

“It sounded like a sonic boom, but it just kept on going,” said Ruth Fordon, who operates Lightkeepers Guest House on the island.

Fordon said there was one big explosion and then random smaller explosions as the fireworks kept igniting.

The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department was already on the scene to provide support for setting up the evening’s fireworks.

The explosion set trees on fire.  Those fires were quickly extinguished.  No structures were damaged.

At this point, according to various officials, the cause of the explosion is unknown.

According to a Hyde County press release, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company were expected to be on the site this afternoon to help determine the cause of the accident and whether any unexploded pyrotechnics remained in the destroyed tractor-trailer.

The Hatteras Inlet ferry suspended operations for several hours this morning, but resumed its runs at about 11 a.m.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division, the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries are still shut down this afternoon.

“Once clearance is received from Homeland Security, the ferry will resume operations to and from Cedar Island and Swan Quarter,” according to a Ferry Division press release. “The hours will be extended to accommodate all travelers who had reservations and those in the stand-by lanes.”

In addition to Hyde County emergency personnel, first responders from Dare, Pender, and Carteret counties responded to the explosion.

From Dare County, the respondents included the Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services (including Dare MedFlight), and the Hatteras Island Rescue Squad.

Some of the July 4 activities scheduled for Ocracoke went on as planned.  However the Old Time Ocracoke Parade has been postponed until tomorrow – Sunday, July 5, at 3 p.m.

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