FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth officials made the tough call to end the fireworks show with thousands of people packed at Panther Island to watch the Independence Day sky display as crews worked to battle hundreds of grass fires across the area.
The flames broke out during the Magic in the Sky show July 4, right across the river Daniel Demaline set up to sell food. He and his staff had a front-row seat to what went wrong.
"The whole thing was on fire. I mean, it was just, you know, one- or two-feet blazes of fire just across the whole levee," said Demaline.
According to the Fort Worth Fire Department, about seven minutes into the fireworks show, embers fell onto the grass where technicians sent them into the sky.
Due to dry conditions, the Fort Worth Fire Department and Magic in the Sky had already pre-planned for it so firefighters in Brush trucks were on site.
In fact, Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis attended pre-holiday event meetings to strategize a game plan in case something went wrong. Davis also shared that even before the event is given the green light it must meet certain criteria including safety plans, dry conditions, minimum wind gust factors and more.
Davis said, "What we experienced last night was the concern that myself, as the fire chief in Fort Worth and every other fire chief throughout Tarrant County was worried about."
Davis explained his staff delayed the fireworks and eventually made the call that it was just too dangerous for the show to go on.
Jacob Dell is the owner of Magic in the Sky, which is a new provider for the fireworks display after a bidding process.
This is the first year for Magic in the Sky doing Fort Worth's fireworks. Dell was in another part of Texas when he got the call about the grass fires surrounding his employees as they launched synchronized fireworks from the grass riverbank area at Panther Island.
"Our technicians felt it was not safe to continue, and that's why the decision was made to cancel," said Dell. "We do anywhere from 400 to 500 fireworks displays."
Dell agreed with Davis during a late Tuesday afternoon news conference that continuing the fireworks Monday night, even after a delay, would have put everyone nearby at risk.
After onlookers and many of the vendors cleared Panther Island near the launch pads. FWFD and the technicians from Magic in the Sky had assistance from bomb squad personnel detonating the remaining fireworks.
Demaline told WFAA that there was an announcement that the fireworks show would be delayed. But as he watched the grass fire continue to spread down the riverbanks, eventually an announcement came that no one wanted to hear.
"Yeah, it was actually a recording. I don't know if it's happened in the past," said Demaline. "But there was a recording that came on and said initially it was that the fireworks would be temporarily paused or something like that. Then a man came on and said, 'Yes, that the fireworks show has been canceled, please make your way to your cars.' You could just hear the 'oohs' through the whole crowd and 'boo.'"
During the fast-moving grass fire, Demaline grew concerned about the fireworks on the launch pads accidentally catching on fire. He shared what he thought would be the biggest threat.
"The complete fireworks themselves, like igniting and maybe going off like a bomb," said Demaline.
During the delay, people still lined up to buy food from Demaline at the Arcadia Parish Crawfish vendor booth. Some people waited in line even after the official cancellation.
Davis plans to use what they've learned from this year's incident as a planning tool for next year.
He explained their biggest concern was the fireworks near the grass fire being accidentally set ablaze with people nearby and not necessarily the grass fires themselves.
Davis works closely with the fire marshal and other city leaders to determine what steps to take and respond to during public events like the July 4 fireworks display that draws thousands of people each year.