KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Investigators believe an explosion at a Raytown duplex Monday night was caused by illegal fireworks.
John Ham, public information officer for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Kansas City, said crews were able to enter the structure Tuesday, where they found a body and evidence the person had been making illegal fireworks when the blast happened.
“This has gone from a sad event to a tragic event,” Ham said.
He said a child who was in the home, located in the 7400 block of Englewood Lane, is being treated at Children’s Mercy and is doing better.
A woman in the side of the duplex that exploded also was injured, though her condition is unknown at this time.
Ham said it was an incident that was entirely preventable, urging people to not mishandle fireworks or try to make their own.
“It’s a timely reminder that the powders that are in pyrotechnics are unstable and they can absolutely do damage, they can absolutely be lethal if they’re not handled by professionals,” he said.
He also underlined the importance of buying fireworks from a licensed tent.
“We want everybody to celebrate the Fourth of July. Go to a tent that’s licensed by the state fire marshal, that’s licensed by your city fire marshal,” Ham said. “Buy the fireworks that are in the wrapped displays with the warning labels so that you know where they came from — there’s some kind of product integrity.”
Ham said people who buy from unlicensed dealers are contributing to the problem of black market fireworks because that means someone is out there making them.
They’re also putting themselves at risk because anything could happen when an illegal firework is lit.
Ham said that every year his department sees lost fingers and hands – even fatalities – from illegal fireworks.
“Every year, we continue to say, ‘Hey, buy this stuff from the licensed tent,’ so we at least know there’s been some sort of quality assurance process,” he said.
In this case, Ham said it appeared the victim was working with a powder that was heat, friction and shock sensitive.
“It takes literally nothing other than friction to cause a major detonation,” Ham said.
He said that as little as five to 10 pounds of the powder was capable of causing a deadly explosion like the one in Raytown.
“There’s no safe way to mess with fireworks," Ham said. "They’re packaged and they’re sold that way for a reason — because they’re dangerous. They’re inherently dangerous because when we light them we expect them to explode.”
Moving forward, a criminal investigation into this case is unlikely since authorities believe the person who was breaking the law has died.
The ATF and state’s fire marshals were concluding their investigation Tuesday afternoon and preparing to hand the case back to the city of Raytown to secure the structure.
The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office had arrived on scene to claim the body for identification purposes.
Neighbors on the street told 41 Action News the experience was horrifying and one they'll never forget.
Betty Hyman was in her home at the time of the explosion.
"I felt a loud boom, I kind of lifted off my bed a little bit," Hyman said.
Hyman ran outside to see the home up in flames and several children running away from the blast.
"One of the little boys looked so traumatized, when he came out I was like, 'Oh my gosh, somebody get these kids some help,'" Hyman said.
Rycherd Jones lives across the street and wasn't home at the time. He said the sight of what's left of the home is heartbreaking.
"Kind of a scary situation," Jones said. "My girlfriend and her daughter were home, heard a loud boom, and called me while I was at work and sent me pictures and everything, so it was really quite scary for them," Jones said.
Ham said this isn’t the first time the manufacture of illegal fireworks has caused an explosion in the Kansas City area, and that it’s happened “way too many times.”
In June 2017, an explosion and subsequent fire at an illegal fireworks factory leveled the Grandview business serving as its front.
Just a few weeks later in St. Joseph, three people were pulled from a home-turned-rubble pile after a blast caused by illegal fireworks.
A man was arrested in that case.