A 74-year-old man died from severe injuries while awaiting an airlift and a 25-year-old man was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with burns and trauma following an explosion at a fireworks plant near Tenino just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin.
In addition, a 52-year-old man was transported by private vehicle to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, he said.
The explosion was at Entertainment Fireworks in the 13000 block of Reeder Road Southwest, just south of the Maytown Road Southwest. Fire destroyed a nearly 400-square-foot cloth-walled working area and part of a large box truck, Elwin said.
Its cause is being investigated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but authorities do not believe it was criminal, Elwin said.
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The company produces professional fireworks shows around the region, and workers were preparing shells for shipping, but it’s unknown what caused them to go off, according to a statement released by Entertainment Fireworks vice president of operations Ken Julian.
The company is licensed by the state and federal government, and is “a very reputable fireworks firm,” according to Brennan Phillips, an explosives officer with the ATF’s Seattle office.
“They’ve been here a long time, and generally have a good safety record,” he said.
There are a number of ways the explosion could have been sparked, including static electricity or some type of radio device or a cell phone in the area, Phillips said.
“It’s explosives -- it’s fireworks -- there are some hazards involved,” he added.
The incident also is being investigated by the Department of Labor and Industries, which sent a workplace safety inspector and an explosives safety inspector to the scene.
There have not been any complaints or incidents to trigger a safety inspection involving Entertainment Fireworks during the past nine years, said L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer.
“This is the first incident in decades of a workplace death related to fireworks,” she said.
Reggie LeVasseur, 84, who owns the neighboring property, said he felt the explosions, an thought bombs were going off.
“Smoke was all over the place,” he said. “...Oh, man, it scared us to death.”
Mark Rorvic, 54, who lives across the street, said he awoke to the sound of the explosions.
“All of a sudden all hell broke loose, and it was boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said. “...Horrific -- it’s the only way I could say it.”
Rorvic said he used to work for the fireworks company which puts on professional shows, and boasts itself as “the largest fireworks company in Washington state” on its website.
“They do Lakefair, they do Red Wind Casino (shows),” Rorvic said. “They’re a major company around here.”
Multiple agencies are involved in the investigation including the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Thurston County Fire District 1, the Washington State Patrol’s explosives unit, ATF, the State Fire Marshal and L&I.
Julian issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the company was saddened by the loss of an employee. He noted that one of the company’s owners is one of the injured survivors.
“We are a small company where everyone works together -- it’s like a family,” the statement said. “When something like this happens, it is devastating. We have been in business more than 16 years and nothing like this has ever happened as safety is our number one priority and we pride ourselves on our highly qualified staff.”