An explosion rocked an illegal fireworks plant near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border today, killing at least nine people, officials said. One witness said he saw a “tremendous fireball hit the sky.”
Witnesses said the blast scattered debris over a large area and shattered windows. The area around the scene of the explosion, in rural Beaver Township south of Youngstown, was sealed off by authorities after the blast.
Mahoning County Sheriff Ed Nemeth confirmed that at least nine people were killed. Township Police Chief John Rinko said the building housed an illegal fireworks plant.
Don Getz, owner of the nearby Youngstown Racquet Club, said the explosion occurred in a barn located on a former farm.
Getz said he and his wife were driving by the farm at about 11 a.m. when “we saw this tremendous fireball hit the sky. At first we thought a tanker blew on the turnpike. There was tremendous percussion. Everyone’s windows were gone in the vicinity.”
“It rocked our whole area. On the street next door to us quite a few windows were broken,” said Debbie Roman, an employee at the Western Reserve Auction House about a quarter-mile from the explosion site.
Nemeth said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had been called in to investigate the explosion.
An illegal fireworks factory exploded at a rural farm near Benton, Tenn., in May, 1983, killing 11 people. Later that year, two members of the famed Grucci fireworks family were killed in an explosion at their plant on New York’s Long Island.
Two people were killed and 25 people injured in a 1981 explosion of an illegal fireworks operation in Newport, Ky., across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The blast caused $4 million in property damage.