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Fireworks Malfunction Injures WrestleMania Fans in Orlando

Apr 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

A malfunction in a fireworks company’s display at the popular and top-rated World Wrestling Entertainment show in Orlando, Florida resulted in singes and burns to dozens of people who were in attendance during WrestleMania XXIV at the Florida Citrus Bowl.  The fireworks company—Zenith Pyrotechnology—is based in Deer Park, New York and is known for providing exciting fireworks shows for the likes of Aretha Franklin, Boyz II Men, and Brandy.  Zenith Pyrotechnology has also provided fireworks for WWE in the past, enhancing WWE's dramatic and theatrical events by creating spectacular displays.

On Sunday, dozens of spectators were scorched when rockets attacked the crowd.  Fire department officials said that somewhere between 30 and 35 people were burned and three of the injured were treated at the Orlando Regional Medical Center; their conditions are unknown.

Officials said that the fireworks accident occurred toward the end of the event and seemed to occur when a cable that supported the fireworks on the southwest end of the stadium snapped, shooting rockets into the stands.  Fire Assistant Chief Greg Hoggatt said the guide wire supporting the fireworks "was stretched to the stage at the north end zone.  The cable was to supply a route for fireworks to travel down.  Somewhere in that period the cable failed."  In February 1999, Zenith did the fireworks shows for Chinese New Year in New York City and, in 1998, the famous New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.

In June 2007, the company helped stage an explosion meant to depict the death of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon as he entered a limousine in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, during a "WWE Raw" event.

Wrestling officials said almost 75,000 people attended Sunday’s event and the WWE spent about $300,000 on the event.  The WWE issued the following statement on its Web site that states, "We're investigating the incident and doing everything we can to find out why it happened and to make sure it never happens again.  While we apologize to anyone who was injured and/or alarmed by this occurrence, we take solace in the fact that the reported injuries were minor."

Orlando Fire officials say the investigation into what went wrong is left up to WWE and its fireworks New York-based contractor, Zenith Pyrotechnology.  "It's so preliminary. I hate to make a comment," said Zenith general manager, Marie Kun. "We are going to find out what happened. . . .  That effect was tested in February and on Friday." It's a common effect that is used in several of the WWE shows, she said.

Fire Marshal Tammy Hughes, who awarded Zenith with the city's permit, was at the Citrus Bowl all day Sunday.  She and her nine-member staff continued to inspect the pyrotechnics throughout the day, said Hoggatt adding, “They found nothing wrong at that point.  If they had, they would have stopped (the fireworks)."

Rescue crews that were fighting against the crowds leaving the stadium responded to the various areas to assess the injuries.  According to Hoggatt, people with non-critical and non-life-threatening injuries were asked to go to first aid for treatment.


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