A video taken from an onlooker shows falling debris that landed on electrical wires, following Nassau County's signature July Fourth fireworks show. The flaming debris prematurely set off mortars that ignited a fire at East Meadow's Eisenhower Park.  Credit: Jason Tomack

The finale of one of Nassau County's signature July Fourth fireworks shows literally went up in smoke Friday as falling debris landed on electrical wires, prematurely setting off mortars that ignited a fire at East Meadow's Eisenhower Park, according to officials.

The blaze was contained to the golf driving range area where the fireworks were being set off, according to Phil Grucci, president and CEO of Fireworks by Grucci Inc., which runs the popular "Celebrating America" show at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre. No one was hurt, police said.

"It's an unfortunate situation but safety precautions are in place to adapt to something like that," Grucci said in an interview Saturday. "… Our technicians were all protected. They were in a protective shelter as the whole show was fired electronically."

An estimated 20,000 people attended the show, according to county spokesman Chris Boyle.

The East Meadow Fire Department and Nassau County Police Department responded to the blaze, which was extinguished as visitors exited the park. 

“After the fireworks show there were several minor fires in brush areas that were already closed and in frozen zones," Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. "In preparation for the show and adhering to safety protocols, the Nassau County Police Department's Arson Bomb Squad was present as was the East Meadow Fire Department. All fires were put out in a relatively short amount of time. No damage or injuries reported."

The incident occurred about 30 seconds into the show's big finale, shortly before 10 p.m., according to photos and videos shared by attendees with Newsday. 

Melanie Fisher of East Meadow, who was watching the show with her two daughters and several friends, said she immediately knew something had gone awry.

"We've never seen anything misfire in all the years we've been coming there," said Fisher, who attends the show annually. "We knew something was wrong because the finale is never that short."

The incident was sparked by flaming debris that landed on electrical wires in the show's discharge or "fallout" area, igniting mortars that were to be used in the finale, Grucci said.

The mortars, he said, then malfunctioned, shooting off too low to the ground and sparking a fire in the area.

There was no announcement made about the fire, Grucci said, as all of the safety protocols operated as intended. "There was no need to evacuate," he said. "There was no need to notify that there's any additional danger."

Video from Fisher and her friend Danielle Tomack shows large flames and billowing black smoke visible from the other side of the park as the fireworks continued to explode for several minutes after the show had concluded.

Boyle said there was "no significant damage" to the park, and all Eisenhower golf courses were open Saturday. The driving range was closed, he said, although that is typical the day after the fireworks show.

Fisher said the fire did not dampen her family's festivities.

"It didn't feel like an emergency," she said. "There was no sense of panic. There were still little kids running around."
 

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