Man Badly Injured by Exploding Firework

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 30, 2021

Morro Bay Fire Department officials are pointing out the dangers of fireworks after what they said was a mortar-type firework blew up prematurely, and badly mangled a man’s hand.

At about 11:40 p.m. Thursday, July 8 police got a 9-1-1 call about a man on a commercial fishing boat tied up at the South T-pier suffering serious injuries. “It came in as a medical aid,” said Fire Chief Steve Knuckles.

The boat was a 60-foot commercial vessel and the injured 30-year-old man was a crewmember, but the Chief declined to name the man to protect his medical privacy. He also declined to name the boat, as that would in essence lead to the individual too.

He said the injury was caused by a mortar that’s designed to be launched high into the air and explode like the type seen in traditional fireworks displays.

Professional fireworks technicians would normally be the ones to fire off such a device and the chief said they are designed to be mounted on the ground, pointing straight up, and are wired to a triggering device and set off electronically.

Chief Knuckles said, “These are supposed to be used by someone with a pyro-technics license. You have to point them straight up and they’re ignited electronically, that’s the safest way to operate these.”

Such mortars are “Class C” fireworks, he said, and consist of ball filled with flammable chemicals, that fit snuggly into their firing tubes. He said the injured man was holding the device in his hands when it burned through the side of the tube and exploded, causing a “partial hand amputation injury to the palm of his right hand. He will probably lose some fingers.”

The mortar ball has to fit right — not too lose or too tight — the Chief said, or it could go terribly wrong.
He said they hadn’t ascertained where he got the device, which the fire department apparently didn’t confiscate. He worries now that there may be more of these in town.

But there is some dispute as to what exactly blew up, as the man’s father told Estero Bay News that it was actually a large, signal flare not a firework.
Estero Bay News asked the father to arrange an interview with his injured son who was at an out-of-area hospital, but they decided not to. He did say that his son had lost one finger, but is determined to go back to fishing when he heals up.

“It’s foolish to have such a dangerous firework,” Chief Knuckles said, adding that since there was no control box to be found, it must have been lit with some kind of fuse. “With boats you have to be especially careful because they are flammable, and so is the dock.”

He recalled the 1988 South T-pier Fire that destroyed the pier, damaged or destroyed some 13 fishing boats and killed two people.
That fire, the worst in the history of the waterfront, was caused by a shore power extension cord to one of the boats that overheated and caught the underside of the creosote-treated wooden timbers on fire.

“The City can’t keep rebuilding that pier,” he said of the South T-pier, which is reserved exclusively for commercial fishing boats. “It would not only cost the City if it caught fire again, but the commercial fishing industry too. It would hurt so many people. They’re illegal for a reason.”

In Morro Bay, the Fire Department has been able to get the City Council to help them out with the issue of fireworks, by passing an ordinance that bans all fireworks in the City Limits, except those as part of a professional show.

The fire department had three engines patrolling town on 4th of July, with the chief and fire marshal out in a command vehicle. They also sent out some 750 flyers to every address and every motel in town warning of the ordinance and promising fines for anyone caught lighting them off.
“The visitors are the ones who usually bring in the illegal fireworks, not our citizens,” Chief Knuckles said.

And while this past 4th of July wasn’t much of a problem, Chief Knuckles said they did get some reports of fireworks down at the harbor, but didn’t catch anyone.

“There were less illegal fireworks this year than in years before,” he said. “And illegal fireworks off boats has diminished considerably. For 11 years we’ve had that ordinance. It’s been very successful. We did have some going off this year, but less than usual.”

There were also no fires reported caused by fireworks over the long holiday.

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