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Chaos and Confusion Followed Ontario Fireworks Explosion That Killed Two People

Investigators plan to search through what remains of the Ontario property where a stockpile of fireworks exploded Tuesday in a deadly blast that rattled nerves and blew out windows at homes located blocks away.

Two people were killed when the large fireworks stash exploded in the inland Southern California community, setting off a series of blasts and sending a towering smoke plume over the neighborhood. Smoke continued to waft from the neighborhood early Wednesday morning.

Authorities, including the FBI, are investigating the explosion of what were believed to be commercial-grade fireworks in Ontario, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. About 50 firefighters still worked to douse the flames three hours after the initial blast as the popping sound of more fireworks could still be heard.

“I truthfully thought somebody was bombing us,” said resident Jamie Ortega, wrapped in a blanket outside her home. “I was scared. My husband wasn’t home, so I didn’t know what was happening.”

Smaller explosions could still be heard after 7 p.m. Tuesday and smoke was still coming from the property. The condition of the building was considered too dangerous for investigators to enter late Tuesday.

Fireworks are illegal in Ontario, as they are in many California cities. Ontario Police Chief Mike Lorenz said officers have been called to the area in the past on reports of fireworks being set off.

“Based on the volume of the explosion and what happened, this is unique, “ said Lorenz.

Officials didn’t immediately have information about where the cache in the explosion came from, or what was happening in the home where the blasts erupted.

“We don’t know anything about the fireworks right now,” Ontario Fire Chief Ray Gayk said.

The only way I can describe it — picked up the house and dropped it. Didn’t feel like an earthquake. Wasn’t thunder. It was nothing I’ve ever felt before.

Resident Trina Barich

The two people who were killed appeared to be inside or around the home, Gayk said. Three other people had minor injuries and weren’t hospitalized, Gayk said.

Others nearby were able to escape, authorities said.

Emergency crews responded around midday following reports of multiple blasts. Residents described an initial explosion, then a second larger blast that shook house.

“The only way I can describe it — picked up the house and dropped it,” said resident Trina Barich. “Didn’t feel like an earthquake. Wasn’t thunder. It was nothing I’ve ever felt before.”

Oscar Vargas Ibarra, 17, who lives two houses from explosion site, told the Los Angeles Times that when the first blast hit, they grabbed their dog and bolted into the street. The teenager said he knew people living at the destroyed home had fireworks, although he didn’t know how many.

“They always pop them off, random sometimes, like at night shows or a holiday,” he said.

Firefighters managed to free a horse on the property that was trapped against a fence near a pile of burning debris. Another horse managed to escape unharmed.

Several neighbors said windows at their homes were shattered by the initial blast. Hours later, several smaller blasts went off, apparently from remaining fireworks, and a plume of smoke rose from the area.

People nearby were evacuated for at least the night or until the area is declared safe, fire officials said. About 60 people checked in at a Red Cross shelter. Sixteen people were placed in hotels for the night.

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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