CUMBERLAND — A stray shell from the 31st annual Cumberlandfest fireworks show exploded on the ground on Saturday night, injuring seven people, including four young children.
The state fire marshal investigated the incident and told the Globe in an email that it was an accident.
“It appears one of the 3-inch shells didn’t explode in the air. When it hit the ground near the spectators it bounced and burned three adults and four children. All were transported to Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital with minor burns,” State Fire Marshal Timothy McLaughlin said in an email. “Our investigation concluded that this was accidental.”
McLaughlin said the ages of the injured children were 3 months, 2 years, 5 years, and 7 years old.
According to Cumberland Mayor Jeffrey Mutter, the shell exploded underneath a baby’s stroller. A car seat on the stroller absorbed much of the blast.
“That could have been much worse a situation,” Mutter told the Globe on Sunday afternoon. “I haven’t been updated on the injuries. They said they were minor but I haven’t gotten a full update as far as this moment.”
Mutter said that the highway department had cleared an access road for emergency vehicles at the venue earlier this week. “That was valuable in this situation,” he said. “The incident happened outside the 450 foot safety range they call. It was deemed an accident.”
Festivalgoer Scout Lieb says she and her friends watched the fireworks display at Cumberlandfest, an annual summer festival and fundraiser.
“There was a set of three fireworks and one didn’t go off in the air,” Lieb told the Globe. “Something definitely blew up in a walkway near some people. I heard a loud pop.”
Two of the fireworks burst in the air but one appeared to sail into the crowd at the carnival games in the Midway and exploded there. On Sunday, a scorch mark about 8-feet wide was still visible near the balloon game, marked with white spray-paint from the fire marshal’s investigation.
“A bunch of people started running away,” Lieb said. “There was a lot of smoke. There was a path by the stage area; I would say it was coming from on the path exactly. There was a huge plume of smoke and people started screaming and running away from it. A lot of people looked confused.”
Lieb and her friends were sitting near the empty pond and stage about 50 feet away from the explosion. She said they saw police on foot and security in golf courts head toward the area of the smoke. They left on a shuttle bus to go to their car, which was parked at Saint Vianney Catholic Church.
“As we left we saw ambulances whizzing toward it,” Lieb says.
Three-inch display shells are among the smallest of professional aerial fireworks, which can range from 3 inches to 24 inches.
Cumberland Police Chief Matthew Benson said they responded to the incident but the scene was quickly turned over to the state fire marshal and Cumberland Fire Department for investigation.
According to the Cumberlandfest website, a “Massive Fireworks Display” was scheduled for Saturday night. McLaughlin told the Globe that he did not have any information about whether the festival would close early or if fireworks would continue. Lieb said the fireworks show did not stop after the explosion.
“I hadn’t seen the fireworks go off in that direction before,” she said. “They usually seemed farther away. The last time I went to Cumberlandfest was in 2017. It was scary, not going to lie. That’s why we left.”
Cumberlandfest is produced by the nonprofit Cumberland Youth Activities Council and is held annually on Victory Day weekend at Diamond Hill Park. It has generated more than $1 million to youth programs over its 30-year history, according to its website. Rhode Island is the only state that celebrates Victory Day (the second Monday in August), which commemorates the end of World War II and the surrender of Japan on Aug. 14, 1945.
The festival continued as scheduled on Sunday, with attendees lining up to get in to the park at noon. At the information office and volunteer station at the main entrance, a member of the Cumberlandfest board of directors told the Globe to direct any questions about Saturday’s fireworks incident to the state fire marshal.
This article has been updated with pictures and details from the site of the explosion, and comments from the mayor of Cumberland.