At least 36 people were injured or treated at Simi Valley-area hospitals after a major malfunction at a fireworks display sent pyrotechnics shooting into a crowd of spectators.
An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people were gathered at Rancho Santa Susana Community Park in Simi Valley Thursday to watch the show when, officials believe, at least one pyrotechnic prematurely exploded in a mortar, causing a chain reaction that tipped over other fireworks and launched them into the crowd of spectators.
Simi Valley police initially said 28 people were injured, including 20 who were taken by ambulance to area hospitals. Additional victims sought treatment on their own.
Simi Valley Hospital treated 26 patients, 14 of which came in by ambulance, according to hospital spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez. The patients ranged in age from 17 months to 71 years, and 12 were children, she said.
Twenty-three patients have been treated and released, she said. One was transported to an area burn center. Two remained at Simi Valley Hospital on Friday morning, but were listed in fair condition.
The injuries included burns, shrapnel, trampling wounds and chest pains, Gonzalez said.
Eight people between the ages of 5 and 42 went to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, including four by ambulance, according to hospital spokeswoman Kris Carraway. The victims suffered injuries including burns, lacerations and tinnitus – ringing in the ears. All were treated and released, she said.
"They were all very lucky," she said.
A spokeswoman at Holy Cross Hospital said the hospital treated two patients last night, but neither was admitted.
Simi Valley resident Victor Morales, 40, said his brother Danny Morales, 42, was hit between the eyes.
"I saw him holding his face, and his face was full of blood," he said.
His brother was taken to Los Robles Hospital and was released Friday morning.
His son, also named Victor Morales, 20, said more than 20 of his friends and family were in the front row of the crowd -- a spot they had reserved Tuesday night, underscoring the show's popularity among Simi Valley residents.
The younger Morales, a student at the Art Institute of Hollywood, said many of his young cousins were in the front row to get the best view. Many suffered burns, he said, but none was taken to the hospital.
"They are a little shaken up," he said.
Morales' mother saw a fireball coming toward her, he said, so she ducked down in her chair. Her hair was charred, he said, and the smell of burning hair and burning blankets filled the air.
Rick Leidner, 42, of Simi Valley said his 22-year-old son, who had ACL surgery three weeks ago, was trampled by the crowd. Paramedics took Dustin Fields to an area hospital, where he remained Friday morning.
"I'm hoping he'll be released today," Leidner said.
The show was sponsored by the Simi Valley Rotary Club, who hired Bay Fireworks, a New York-based company.
In a statement issued Friday, Bay Fireworks said it "deeply regrets" the incident, saying its "major concern and focus" were on injured spectators and their families. The company asked anyone injured in Thursday's show to contact the Simi Valley Rotary Club to obtain insurance information for Bay Fireworks.
Bay Fireworks described its staff as "highly qualified," saying it was regularly trained and used equipment "inspected and approved by authorities." "Our displays, like the one in Simi Valley, are properly permitted through local authorities having jurisdiction," the statement said.
Bay Fireworks said it would conduct a "complete and thorough" investigation and would make the results available to the public.
Local authorities said that although the inquiry is ongoing, they believe it was an industrial accident -- there were no initial indications of foul play and no criminal investigation is underway. The scene was marked by police tape Friday morning, as authorities waited for a Bay Fireworks team to remove the remaining pyrotechnics.
The Simi Valley bomb squad has deemed the area safe, but authorities said Bay Fireworks would remove the remaining pyrotechnics. That could take "quite some time," Simi Valley Police Cmdr. Blair Summey said, as the fireworks exploded about five minutes into what was supposed to be a 25-minute show.
Roger Powell, 63, watched the show from a few blocks away. About a minute in, he said, the sky flashed.
"It was almost like the finale was going off," he said. "I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be one heck of a show.'"