Front-row view of fireworks disaster: Fireball, charred hair, fear

A sheriff's helicopter surveyed a Simi Valley park Friday morning as authorities walked the grassy lawn littered with items left behind. Lawn chairs. Broken sunglasses. Barbecue grills. Flip flops.

As people gathered near Rancho Santa Susana Community Park to retrieve their belongings and revisit the scene, many recalled the explosion at the Fourth of July fireworks display that sent the crowd running and left at least 28 people injured.

Simi Valley resident Victor Morales, 40, said his brother Danny Morales, 42, was hit between the eyes.

PHOTOS: Simi Valley fireworks explosion

"I saw him holding his face, and his face was full of blood," he said. 

His brother was taken to Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks and was released Friday morning.

His son, also named Victor Morales, 20, said more than 20 of his friends and family were in the front row of the crowd - a spot they had reserved on Tuesday night, underscoring the show's popularity among Simi Valley residents.

DRAMATIC VIDEOS OF ACCIDENT

The younger Morales, a student at the Art Institute of Hollywood, said many of his young cousins were in the front row in order to give them the best view. Many suffered burns, he said, but none was taken to the hospital.

"They are a little shaken up," he said.

Morales' mom saw a fireball coming toward her, he said, so she ducked down in her chair. Her hair was charred, he said, and the smell of burning hair and burning blankets filled the air.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people were gathered at the park Thursday to watch the show when, officials believe, at least one pyrotechnic prematurely exploded in a mortar, causing a chain reaction that tipped over other fireworks and launched them into the crowd of spectators.

The crowd scattered as emergency workers rushed in to help. Simi Valley police said 20 people were transported to area hospitals. Four suffered serious, but not life-threatening, injuries. One police officer was also struck in the back by a projectile that cut the leather on his belt.

The number of injured is likely greater than 28, with many patients driving themselves to local hospitals for treatment.

Simi Valley Hospital treated 26 patients, 14 of which came in by ambulance, according to hospital spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez. The patients ranged in age from 17 months to 71 years, and 12 were children, she said.

Twenty-three patients have been treated and released, she said. One was transported to an area burn center. Two remained at Simi Valley Hospital on Friday morning, but were listed in fair condition.

The injuries included burns, shrapnel, trampling and chest pains, Gonzalez said.

"All of the sudden, we saw fireworks shooting across the ground in every direction," said Don Darby, 53, of Simi Valley. "A couple more went off. ... Sparks were flying."

Roger Powell, 63, watched the show from a few blocks away. About a minute in, he said, the sky flashed.

"It was almost like the finale was going off," he said. "I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be one heck of a show.'"

It wasn't until the fireworks stopped and the helicopters came that Powell realized something had gone wrong.