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Flying debris, shattered windows, flames: Videos, terrified residents describe deadly Ontario explosion

Jennifer Nalbandian stands outside her apartment amid shattered glass
Jennifer Nalbandian, 43, describes how a powerful explosion Tuesday shattered windows of her apartment on 300 block of West Francis Street in Ontario.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Nalbandian was sitting on the couch in her living room in Ontario when the initial explosion hit, violently shaking her house.

At first, she thought it was an earthquake.

“My daughter says to me, ‘No, Mom, I think it came from the sky,’ ” Nalbandian said. She began picking up things around her apartment that had fallen. Then she opened her front door.

“The boom pushed me back, and the window shattered,” she said. “I got hit with the after-blast when I opened the door.”

The structures that were destroyed in the blast were visible from her balcony, Nalbandian said.

Residents described in horror the fireworks explosion that rocked their neighborhood Tuesday, leaving two people dead and several structures damaged.

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Ontario Fire Department crew treats 72-year-old David Nguyen
An Ontario Fire Department crew treats 72-year-old David Nguyen on Tuesday.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Residents across a vast area reported hearing the blast and feeling the ground shake shortly before 1 p.m. Two structures on the same lot — a front and back house — were engulfed in flames after the explosion.

Many residents were evacuated. And authorities could take as long as four days to declare the area safe, Ontario Police Chief Michael Lorenz said.

Ontario Fire Department Chief Ray Gayk said commercial-grade fireworks started the fire at a roughly 1-acre residential lot near West Francis Street and Fern Avenue.

The FBI and local authorities are investigating.

Oscar Vargas Ibarra, 17, who lives two houses from the site of the explosion, said he and his brother rushed for the door when the first blast hit. They grabbed their dog before bolting across the street. When the second, larger explosion hit, “that’s when everyone ran, ran for their lives,” Oscar said.

Some neighbors were aware of the fireworks in the neighborhood long before Tuesday’s explosion. Oscar said he knew that the people who lived at the now-smoldering home had “a few fireworks,” but he hadn’t been aware of the extent of their stockpile.

“They always pop them off, random sometimes, like at night shows or a holiday,” he said.

Flying debris shattered windows and toppled televisions in Oscar Martinez’s home a few houses from the site of the blast. Martinez and six other members of his household were uninjured, but the 21-year-old was nevertheless shaken. He said fireworks go off in their neighborhood every few weeks, usually around midnight.

Although the Ontario police have fielded numerous calls about fireworks in the area, Lorenz said late Tuesday that they had not received a complaint regarding the property that erupted in flames.

Officials have not identified the two people who died and are not sure where the fireworks came from.

“They are commercial grade,” Gayk said, “like you would normally see in the fireworks show.”


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