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'Bad Shell' Caused Simi Valley Fireworks Disaster

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Fireworks mortar tubes. (Photo by Tooykrub/Shutterstock)
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The fireworks company who put on the disastrous Simi Valley July 4 show that injured dozens is now saying that a shell malfunction was the likely cause, and that it's not an isolated incident.

Dennis Brady Jr., chief executive of Bethpage, N.Y.-based Bay Fireworks, said that the same thing occurred at a Laguna Hills show, although no one was injured. "We did experience a similar shell malfunction at Laguna Hills using the same product," Brady wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Thankfully we did not experience the same chain reaction."

The company is still waiting for official results to confirm that a shell malfunction was behind both mishaps.

The state fire marshal will lead a multi-agency investigation into the cause of the accident in Simi Valley that sent fireworks into the crowd, wounding 39 people.

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Pyrotechnic operator Bruce Sussin told AP that inspectors checked the site before the show and everything was fine, until fireworks began setting each other off. "Once that occurred and we realized we had a catastrophic failure, we immediately reached back and turned off the computer ... the show immediately shut down," Sussin said.

Bay Fireworks also put on the Laguna Hills show. City Manager Bruce Channing said that the fire marshal shut it down almost as soon as it started because one of the mortars exploded at or near the ground, damaging the wiring to the rest of the fireworks that had yet to go off.

Channing said the city is seeking a refund and was told by Bay that it had received bad shells.

"We'd certainly like to have a better understanding of what occurred," he told AP. "I don't think it's ever expected that a firework will prematurely discharge ... so when it happens there's little other explanation to offer initially beyond bad product."

A different company put on the show in Ojai, where a pryotechnics expert was badly burned but they also believe a bad shell was to blame.

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Doug Taylor, president and chief executive of New Castle, Pa.-based Zambelli Fireworks, which ran the Ojai show, says such accidents are extremely rare. Out of one million shells shot each year by Taylor's company, he estimates only 10 were bad.

He plans to find out whether his fireworks and those of Bay Fireworks were made by the same Chinese manufacturer.

Related:
Video: Fireworks Misfire Into Crowd At Simi Valley Extravaganza [UPDATED]
Another Professional Fireworks Show Goes Wrong: Ojai Pyrotechnics Expert Badly Burned