A fireworks show that went awry in Simi Valley last week could be a “teachable moment” for the industry, said American Pyrotechnics Assn. Executive Director Julie L. Heckman.
As the investigation begins, Heckman said the pyrotechnics association may evaluate whether the distance required between the launch site and spectators needs to change or if operators need more education, among other issues.
“Right now we just don’t know enough details of what really happened,” she said.
Heckman said the pyrotechnic product may also need to be evaluated: “Is that a concern that needs to be addressed? Was this just a fluke? A freak incident?” she said. “We need to know the particulars.”
At least one pyrotechnic malfunctioned about five minutes into the show, detonating early inside its canister, said Simi Valley Police Cmdr. Blair Summey. That explosion caused a chain reaction that tipped over other canisters, firing them toward the crowd.
In all, more than three dozen people were treated for injuries suffered at the fireworks show. They included a toddler and a 71-year-old.
The standard “table,” or distance between the fireworks launch site and the spectators, is set by a National Fire Protection Assn. code, but can be redefined on a state and local level, Heckman said.
Current national regulations, which California enforces, require a display site radius of 70 feet per inch of the largest mortar’s diameter.
The largest mortar at the Simi Valley Show measured five inches across, so a minimum 350-foot radius was required, said Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Mike Lindbery.
Documents show that a valid license was obtained from the state for the fireworks company, and a permit was approved by the county for the show on July 4 at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park.
A fire inspector from the Ventura County Fire Department signed off on the permit, approving the use of 2,214 “Class B shells,” whose diameters ranged between two and five inches.
County documentation for the show includes transportation approval indicating the fireworks would arrive on site at 9:30 p.m. on July 3, consistent with regulations.
The display was set to begin at 9:30 p.m. the next day and to last 20 minutes, according to the records. Fireworks would be fired electrically, with the maximum altitude 500 feet above ground level.
A diagram included in permitting documents indicates that fireworks would be placed in the middle of the launch space with a 385-foot radius of empty space around it.
The state license may be reviewed after investigation of the incident has concluded to determine whether or not any violations of the company’s license were made, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.
The updated 2014 National Fire Protection Assn. regulations have been approved and are set to be released this August, said Guy Colonna, NFPA industrial and chemical engineering division manager.
A committee could endorse and propose an interim amendment if members wish to use the Simi Valley case to adjust the code, Colonna said. Otherwise, the next edition is expected to be released in 2018.
No changes have been made in the 2014 edition to the distance requirement for shooting fireworks from level ground, he said.