Valley Falls Fireworks Display Mishap, Five Injured

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VALLEY FALLS, Kansas (WIBW) -- A fireworks show in Valley Falls gone extremely wrong is being investigated by local law enforcement, along with the state fire marshal.

These fireworks shows have been going on in Valley Falls for years, exactly as planned, but law enforcement and witnesses describe this year's incident as a freak accident.

Forty years of fireworks displays put on by the Valley Falls Chamber of Commerce, and not one time has anything like Thursday night's explosion happened on the Fourth of July.

"All I could see was a ball of fire, peppered me in the back, it just felt like hail stones. I got about a dozen bruises on my back but no burns. I was very fortunate," witness and organizer Paul Heinen said.

Jefferson County officials told 13 News that an ember from a shortfire fell into a plastic tote box carrying mortar shells, which set off a chain reaction, sending sparks shooting everywhere.

"People were running, one fell, everybody was in astonishment," witness Gavin Royer said. "Then afterwards whenever everything started to quiet down, everyone was clapping, didn't know what happened, cheering. It was bad."

A man and woman, Jeremy Kaad of Valley Falls and Julie Durand of Ozawkie, who were part of the pyrotechnics crew were seriously injured and transported to KU Medical Center in Kansas City for burns and shrapnel.

"My grandson come running from a block away and tackled the one fella that was on fire and put him out," Heinen said. Heinen's grandson is in the Army Reserve and knew how to handle the situation when he saw Kaad on fire trying to take his clothes off, which is the worst thing to do.

Officials don't know if the mishap was human or product error, but Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Herrig said malfunctions happen all the time, unfortunately.

"All safety precautions were taken. The volunteers that put this show on has been doing it for years," Herrig said, "they know what they're doing. We're just fortunate no one got killed."

Three other people suffered minor injuries and refused medical treatment.

Durand was air-lifted to KU Medical Center Thursday night, and Kaad was first taken to a Topeka hospital.

The incident happened in a soccer field across from the Valley Falls Cemetery.

Emergency vehicles were still on the scene hours after the accident. Members of the Fire Department and Law Enforcement were searching the area for more unexploded fireworks. An official on scene said they recovered three unexploded mortar shells. They are still trying to determine exactly how the explosion occurred.

Keep checking with WIBW, as this story is still developing.