5 Deadliest Fireworks Accidents in the U.S.

Health 1 December, 2020

Who doesn’t love a good firework? Every year in the United States, millions of people enjoy the sights and sounds of consumer fireworks. Unfortunately, those same fireworks caused 10,000 injuries and 12 deaths in 2019 alone. This isn’t particularly surprising; as delightful as they can be, fireworks have killed and injured many in the last 100 years; let’s take a look at America’s five deadliest fireworks accidents. When it comes to pyrotechnics, safety is always a must.

The Five Deadliest Fireworks Accidents in U.S. History

#5: Illegal Fireworks Factory Explosion


Beaver Township, Ohio– In May 1985, the people of Beaver Township found out why fireworks manufacturing is best left to the professionals. At some point on May 21, a shed full of illegal fireworks exploded. The blast was so powerful that it created a crater 10 feet wide and five feet deep, killing nine people and scattering their bodies over a large area. There were no formal charges filed.

#4: Benton Fireworks Disaster


Benton, Tenn.–On May 27, 1983, an illegal fireworks operation on Webb’s Bait Farm proved fatal. The blast injured one person and killed 11, including the three men responsible for the operation. The details are a bit grisly: All of the bodies were missing limbs, and a couple was, sadly, decapitated. The blast threw Webb himself, who was mowing the lawn at the time of the explosion, more than 70 yards.

The explosion on b’s FWebarm was quite a spectacle; witnesses claim that the white mushroom cloud from the explosion was more than 700 feet high, and the blast was both heard and felt in Cleveland, which is more than 20 miles away. The exact cause of the explosion is unknown, but investigators speculate that a spark from a power drill used for mixing ignited the highly-combustible materials.

To this day, the Webb’s Bait Farm operation remains the largest and most successful (until it wasn’t) known illegal fireworks operation in American history.

#3: Fireworks Explosion at Madison Square


New York City, N.Y.–In November 1902, an explosion on the east side of the park took the lives of 15 people and injured 70 others. Many of the details about this tragedy have been lost to time.

#2: The Paterson Fireworks Explosion of 1901


Paterson, N.J.–On June 22, 1901, the son of Abraham Rittenberg was handling some small firecrackers when one went off and started a chain reaction, which caused a massive fire that destroyed an entire city block and killed 17 people. The police subsequently arrested Abraham Rittenberg, but in the end, it was determined that Rittenberg was not criminally liable.

#1: Aerlex Fireworks Plant Explosion


Hallet, Okla.–On June 26, 1985, a series of explosions at the Aerlex Fireworks plant killed 21 people. One of the explosions was so powerful that authorities found four of the bodies more than 200 yards from the plant. Though the cause is not definitely known, experts speculate that reflections from an automobile mirror caused the initial explosion.

Fireworks Accidents Statistics


Of course, these horror stories are not the norm. The vast majority of fireworks accidents are not caused by explosions and result in only minor injuries. One would think that larger, more powerful fireworks would be responsible for more injuries, but the opposite is actually true: The vast majority of fireworks injuries are caused by some of the most common consumer fireworks you can buy. In fact, sparklers, small firecrackers, and bottle rockets cause the majority of fireworks injuries.

The most commonly injured body parts in fireworks accidents are the hands, eyes, head, and neck, and burns are the most common injury type. Remember, consumer fireworks can be dangerous and should be treated with respect; parents should never allow children, supervised or otherwise, to play with or light fireworks.