Update: Fireworks investigator confirms faulty shell at fault in July 4 Grand Lake fireworks explosion

Tonya Bina
Early Saturday morning, July 5, Grand Lake firefighters and workers from B&K Explosives of Grand Lake remove barges and debris from the lake. An explosion had taken place during the commercial Fourth of July fireworks show around 10:12 p.m. the night before.
Tonya Bina/ |

More fireworks

Grand Lake’s next fireworks show above the lake is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., Sept. 20, during the town’s Constitution Week.

July 7 — The fireworks supplier for Grand Lake’s Fourth of July fireworks show confirms one faulty shell was responsible for an explosion that prematurely ended the show.

“A shell misfired in one of the mortars (launching tubes),” said Bevery Snyder of J & M Displays in Yarmouth, Iowa, who visited Grand Lake on July 5 and investigated the scene. “It went off in the tube and caused all the other shells to go off at the same time. That’s what caused the explosion,” she said.

In the fireworks business, misfiring of shells is something that can happen, for which people should be prepared at all times, Snyder said. That is why there are strict guidelines about distance fireworks crews are from mortars, in accordance with The National Fire Protection Association.

According to Snyder, the Grand Lake fireworks crew was the proper distance away when the shell misfired, which probably saved lives.

Because the Grand Lake Fireworks Committee didn’t get its money’s-worth for the $23,000, show on the Fourth, J&M will be supplying fireworks for the town’s Constitution Week show on Sept. 20 free of charge, Snyder said.

“The community will have a whole other display,” she said.

“We’re sorry that it happened and certainly glad our people are safe and the community is safe, That is our goal — a beautiful display and a safe display,” she said.

July 5 — Grand Lake fireworks facilitator Chuck Barry stood on the edge of the Grand Lake town dock early Saturday morning, July 5, peering into the water at a sunken barge split in two.

Tears welled in his eyes. It was a very close call, and he was thinking of his two grandchildren, he said.

He showed a gash on his left leg, from flying debris during the explosion. He would be heading to the clinic momentarily.

He was humbled by what happened, and expressed deep relief no one had been hurt.

“My dad’s an emotional wreck,” he said. “He thought he lost his son last night.”

The would-be 20-minute Grand Lake fireworks show around 10 p.m. on July 4 was cut short to 12 minutes due to what Barry says were two or more “faulty shells.”

He and his employee Chris Toller, called a shooter, had been out on an axillary barge, managing the $23,000 show when things went awry and an explosion took place, destroying and sinking one of three fireworks barges located about 700 feet from the Grand Lake shore.

A faulty shell had toppled over and set off the finale prior to the end of the show, Barry said.

Barry said his team has a protocol of weeding out unsafe shells. They were in shock by what went bad.

In the 35 years the Barry family of B&K Explosives has run the Grand Lake fireworks show, a near-accident like this has never taken place, he said. Chuck’s father Ray Barry originally started the fireworks tradition in Grand Lake.

Grand Lake firefighters were at the town’s shore early Saturday assisting in hauling in equipment and working to locate a winch to remove the sunken barges.

A fireworks supply representative was en route to investigate the mishap, according to Doris Braun of the Grand Lake Fireworks committee.

Braun said she saw flashes of red light at the barge during the explosion.

The committee likely would be reimbursed for the eight-or-so minutes of lost fireworks, she said.

“This has never happened before. I know these guys here do everything right,”

Meanwhile, Chuck reiterated he was utterly grateful no one got hurt, and was feeling remorseful for all the folks who traveled far to see Grand Lake’s popular show high above Colorado’s largest natural lake.

“I just hope they come back next year because it’s going to be better,” Chuck said.

“I’m an emotional wreck right now.”

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