1997 Fireworks Barge Explosions
Alton IL 3 July - Falmouth MA 4 July

This Fireworks Barge Explosions Page is part of our much larger RBBI (Recreational Boat Building Industry Home Page) web site. We organized information about the barge explosions as a public service to those involved in investigating these accidents. Hopefully this information will be assistance to them in finding the root causes of fireworks barge explosions and aid them in greatly reducing their frequency in the future.

Gary Polson

We have several articles and references covering fireworks barge explosions over the 1997 4th of July weekend. Explosions occurred in Alton IL (across the river from St Louis) and in Falmouth MA (near Cape Cod). One barge had a 5 man crew and the other had 10 men. Their fireworks protective gear made them very heavy in the water. The explosion of two barges over the holidays plus several other fireworks display accidents has attracted the attention of the U.S. Coast Guard and other regulatory agencies. We also have some coverage of the near water fireworks explosion at Charlevoix Michigan 26 July.

We strongly encourage serious researchers of the accidents to utilize the St. Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper web site and the Cape Cod Times web site. Both allow free archive searching.


If you have any suggestions, comments, or informational needs about the fireworks barge explosions we would be happy to hear them. Or if you would just like to drop us a line. E-mail us at polsong@virtualpet.com.


St. Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper
Thursday, July 3, 1997
By Sue Hurley
Special To The Post-Dispatch
portions of this article were deleted
Organizers of today's Independence Day festival at Riverfront Park in Alton are ready for the holiday with a lineup of red-hot entertainment at the annual Riverfront Blast.

Township Supervisor Don Huber said Alton's Independence Day festivities are held on July 3 every year so that people will be able to attend other community and family events on the Fourth of July.

"Since we have ours (celebration) on the 3rd, we compete with no one," said Huber, whose office donated $10,000 to help fund the holiday activities. "If it's on the 4th, it competes with Fair Saint Louis, and we (would) lose people. We don't want to do that."

The city of Alton also pitched in $10,000 for this second annual Riverfront Blast, formerly known as Fireworks on the Mississippi. Private donations totaled more than $5,000.

Music begins at 6 p.m. this evening with Butch Wax and The Hollywoods, followed by TNT Acoustic at 8:30 p.m. After a display of fireworks at 9:15 p.m., the Fabulous Motown Revue will take to the stage around 10 p.m. All activities will wind up at midnight.

Riverfront Blast commissioner Don Hayes said, "Last year we had a good 30,000 people here. It was a heck of a crowd."

"Most of them arrive about 8 p.m., spread out blankets and chairs on an area we keep open on by the marina and watch the fireworks," Hayes said.

Holding the event at the park on the bank of the Mississippi River creates a "natural amphitheater," Huber said, making it the perfect location for a display of pyrotechnics - launched from a specially p repared barge anchored offshore.

"You can sit on any of the hills around here and see the fireworks or go out on the river. Last year, I'll bet there were 600 boats out there. The Alton Marina was packed full," Huber said.

"You can see these fireworks all the way up" the Great River Road, he added. "For every person in the (Riverfront) park, there are probably two or three somewhere else."

Hayes added that more than $18,000 of the event's budget will be spent on the multicolored light show put on by Chicago-based Mad Bomber of Fireworks, a nationally known display artist.

"We take pride in the fact that a lot of people say this is the best fireworks around here," he said. "Fireworks is a tradition in this community. We owe it to the Altonians and the rest of the Metro East area to make it spectacular."

Admission and parking for the event at Riverfront Park, just west of the Clark Bridge, are free.

Copyright © 1997 Post Dispatch and Pulitzer Technologies Inc.


St. Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper
4 July 1997
Three people were reported missing Thursday night in Alton after an explosion aboard a barge on the Mississippi River where fireworks were being launched.

Ten people were aboard the barge, said Coast Guard Lt. Keven Lopes. Seven were safe, but three had yet to be found, Lopes said late Thursday. He said the explosion occurred at 9:36 p.m. during a fireworks display that drew thousands of people to the Alton riverfront.

The Coast Guard closed the Mississippi near Alton so that police, firefighters and other rescue workers from Illinois and Missouri could search for the missing people.

Copyright © 1997 Post Dispatch and Pulitzer Technologies Inc.

1 dead, 2 missing after fireworks barge explodes

AP NEWS 4 July 1997
July 4, 1997 ALTON, Illinois (AP) -- Thousands of people cheered when a fireworks barge lit up during a Fourth of July display Thursday night, unaware the glow was from a misfired shell that blew up the remaining fireworks, killing one man.

Two other workers were missing. The Coast Guard and police planned to resume the search for them Friday.

"We thought it was the grand finale because it was so spectacular," said Rita Strohman of Fullerton, California, who was watching the show along the Mississippi River with an estimated 50,000 others.

Five crew members working for Mad Bombers Fireworks Productions were aboard the barge.

Carl Alalicea was one of the survivors.

"It was quick. Nobody really had a chance to react," he said.

The red, white and blue fireworks show, dubbed The Riverfront Blast, had been going for 10 minutes when the barge exploded no a white glow. One witness said it looked like a shell exploded about 5 feet above the deck and ignited everything else.

Another crew member, Rafael Gonzalez, was thrown 10 feet and managed to swim to a ledge on the barge. He escaped with only a sprained ankle.

Township Supervisor Don Huber said the heavy protective clothing worn by the missing workers made it unlikely they could have survived.

"These guys are jumping in water with clothing that weighs a ton," he said.

The explosion left the river littered with debris. The dead worker, whose identity was not released, was found by firefighters on the barge deck.

Mad Bomber has been in business about eight years. This was its third year producing the show in Alton, across the river from St. Louis.

Copyright 1997 Associated Press.  All rights reserved

2 bodies found after worst of holiday fireworks accidents

5 July 1997
(AP) -- The bodies of two men missing since a deadly fireworks explosion aboard an Illinois barge were found Saturday in the Mississippi River. One other man also was killed in that blast during a holiday weekend that was marred by fireworks accidents.

The bodies, found near the barge where a fireworks show blew up Thursday at Alton, Illinois, were identified as Ralph Duty, 44, and Raymound Hernandez, 24, both of Chicago.

The two fireworks display technicians apparently drowned after the explosion threw them into the water, Madison County Deputy Coroner Robert Lewis said. A third technician, Rick Cisneros, 45, died on the barge.

Authorities said the explosion occurred when an 8-inch shell fired from the barge exploded just a few feet in the air, what's known as a "low blow."

The show was put on by Mad Bomber Fireworks Productions of Plymouth, Indiana, which also staged a show that was interrupted by an explosion Friday at Syracuse, Indiana. A 2-year-old and two adults suffered minor injuries. Mad Bomber co-owner Mike Horvath refused to comment on the accidents Saturday.

Fireworks injuries elsewhere

Another "low blow" set off an explosion aboard a fireworks barge Friday at Falmouth, Massachusetts. Ten people ran for cover, with three diving off the barge into the water, but only one person was seriously hurt.

In Portland, Maine, fireworks exploded about 2 feet above the ground and ignited other pyrotechnics Friday, said Deputy Fire Chief Ronald Thompson. Three people were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

An unexpected wind gust blew falling debris from a fireworks show onto the crowd at Green Bay, Wisconsin, sending 15 people to hospitals with minor burns.

One man was hospitalized and 11 other people were treated for minor burns after a fireworks accident at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A mortar tube burst and the shell it was firing shot out sideways, showering spectators with hot fragments, police said.

Copyright 1997 Associated Press

Fireworks Barge Explodes; 10 Jump Overboard

From Associated Press
Los Angeles Times   Saturday July 5, 1997
Home Edition
Part A, Page 20
FALMOUTH, Mass.--A barge off the Cape Cod coast where workers were launching fireworks exploded Friday night, forcing 10 workers to jump overboard to escape the flames.

"You just saw an intense orange going to white fire that engulfed the entire barge," said Cliff Brennan, a reporter with WCIB in Falmouth who witnessed the explosion.

All 10 workers were taken to local hospitals after the 9:30 p.m. explosion in Vineyard Sound, where 30,000 people watched from shore. The extent of the injuries weren't known, though officials said they didn't believe they were serious.

Police boats, the harbor master and a tugboat rescued the workers, said Coast Guard Lt. Shannan Brown.

On Thursday, a misfired shell lit up all the fireworks at a celebration in Alton, Ill., killing one worker and leaving two presumed dead.

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1997.

Fireworks Standards

The following 3 standards cover fireworks. ANSI = American National Standards Institute and NFPA= National Fire Protection Association. Links to web sites for both groups are in our Links Section below.

ANSI/NFPA 1123    Outdoor Display of Fireworks

ANSI/NFPA 1124    Manufacturing, Transportation, and Storage of Fireworks

ANSI/NFPA 1126   Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience

Companies, Individuals, Officials, and Boats Involved at Alton IL

The 5 individuals on the barge were:
All 5 men were from the Chicago area



Legal References & Citations

I think that a proper search of prior legal cases might help us find more "fireworks barge explosions" that could be compared with these and help those trying to prevent future occurrences by providing them with additional data.

To assist others who may be researching this area, fireworks cases are the 11th group under "Explosions" in most legal indexes.

The one case found to date involving a display worker is below:

Cal, App. 1977
In action by pyrotechnic operators for injuries sustained when two fireworks shells exploded before leaving ground, evidence was sufficient to sustain trial court's finding that operator was not contributorily negligent and had not assumed the risk when he resumed the display after the first shell had prematurely exploded and injured two of his fellow operators.-

Ramsey v. Marutamaya Ogatsu Fireworks Co., Ltd.
140 Cal.Rptr. 247
73 C.A.3d 516


Parting Thoughts

A few stones left unturned that might still surface some useful info are the legal databases. Also one of the newsgroup writers mentions an explosion on a fireworks barge at the Macy's display a few years ago. We might be able to learn some from that one also.

Some of the safety / Accident databases might be able to turn up commercial fireworks display injuries and possibly be able to sort our barge explosions and then investigate them further.

We encourage the Coast Guard and fireworks regulating industries to work together to help insure the safety of all involved in this colorful tradition of celebrating our country's birth.

Missing Pieces / Please Help

We will be listing items we could use some help on here.

If you have any info to contribute about these items, please "click" on the mailbox and drop us a note.
Thank You!

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