FORT MILL, S.C. - Firefighters had to dodge exploding rockets to douse a spectacular fire that destroyed containers of fireworks stored for sale on the Fourth of July.
Emergency crews were called around 5:45 a.m. to the fireworks storage containers near Davey Jones Fireworks along Carowinds Boulevard, just off Interstate 77.
Investigators believe the fire may have been intentionally set. According to the York County deputy fire marshal, they are investigating to fire as a possible arson. Officials have not said what evidence they have that shows the fire was set on purpose.
Manager of Davey Jones Fireworks Sharon Huckeba said employees locked the containers the night before the fire and nothing is connected to them that could cause a spark.
"I believe it was arson, absolutely," said Huckeba.
Channel 9 was there Friday as investigators inspected a wooden area behind the containers and a fence that runs along the store's parking lot.
Detectives also took footage from the store's surveillance cameras in hopes of catching the person responsible.
Carowinds Boulevard is home to a whole collection of mom and pop firework stores. Many owners saud they feel for Davey Jones who lost thousands of dollars worth of products in the fire.
"It's very upsetting that people are that mean around the world now," said Manager of Red Rocket Fireworks Geraldine Bryson.
Crews spent nearly an hour extinguishing the fire.
Shells and rockets burst through the metal containers, sending colorful showers into the air above Davey Jones Fireworks and the House of Fireworks.
Channel 9 crews on the scene could see flames and smoke billowing from the area.
York County deputies said the fire was not actually at the fireworks store but started in containers just outside the store.
Viewer video sent to Channel 9 showed the fireworks shooting into the sky.
(WATCH BELOW: Video of the fireworks fire, courtesy Michael Stechschulte)
A man who lives nearby said the fire woke him up and he decided to drive over to it.
“You see all the smoke, the smell was in the air, so it was a lot,” said Robin Milestone. “You couldn’t really stand around because there was so much smoke around the fireworks.
Store owners from other fireworks stands told Channel 9 that, at first, they thought it was their place on fire. The received phone calls from customers, which led them to check out the scene for themselves.
“Of course, when we saw the video it was showing from the front of our store, so it looked like the fireworks were going off,” said Frawna Peterson, the co-owner of House of Fireworks. “It looked like the back of our roof was actually on fire.”
Captain Jeff Nash with the Flint Hill Fire Department told Channel 9 the fireworks were still exploding in the containers when firefighters got to the scene, creating a dangerous environment.
"The challenge is knowing what you can trust and what you can't trust. There definitely is a risk," Nash said. “You're responsible for ensuring your crew is safe and putting it out and not harming anything else or anybody else. There’s a lot going on in a short period of time."
Nash said they moved quickly because of their extensive training when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime moments, like this one.
It took about 45 minutes to get the fire knocked down.
Firefighters are required to learn training standards, take courses and pass several tests to take on a fire of this size.
“Once you understand life safety and what your tools can do, you can be as aggressive as the risk allows you to be,” Nash said.
Nash said the storage containers were on the property of the Davey Jones Fireworks Store but that there was no damage to the building.
Nash could not put a dollar value on the fireworks that went off but said the boxes appeared to be fully loaded. Channel 9 learned the destroyed shipment had just arrived from China.
The store owner told Channel 9 he was devastated and was working with investigators to find out what happened.
An owner of a neighboring stand has his own theories about what happened.
“Somebody was bored, somebody wanted to see a show, somebody was drunk,” said Doug Cianfrocca, who owns Area 51 Fireworks.
Officials said no firefighters or civilians were injured.
Channel 9 learned the stand was inspected by the fire marshal once this year.
Fireworks stands are not required to have extra security, but many stands do. Some owners told Channel 9 they hire off-duty officers, while others invest in cameras.
Carowinds Boulevard from Highway 51 to the I-77 exit ramp was closed as crews worked to put out the flames but was reopened around 7 a.m.
Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.
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