11 hurt in Pelham, N.H., fireworks blast

PELHAM, N.H. — Two children remain hospitalized with “significant burns” after a large supply of fireworks exploded on the back deck of a home here Tuesday evening, authorities said today.

In all, 11 people, including five children, were injured. Two adults also remain hospitalized. Family members said an 8-month-old girl was injured, and that a 2-year-old boy is in an induced coma.

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“He was completely engulfed in flames,” said the boy’s great-grandfather, Skip Harrington. “We’re just devastated.”

Authorities said they have not determined the cause of the fire, but said fireworks were being set at the time.

“Some fireworks were being discharged and there was a sudden explosion,” said Brian McCarthy of the Pelham police at a press conference this morning.

Harrington said he had heard from family members that a child with a sparkler accidentally ignited the fireworks, causing a large blast that threw at least one person off the deck.

“The whole thing went off like a bomb,” he said. “It’s a freak accident.”

Harrington said his granddaughter, Jessica Bertini, rushed into the fire to rescue her son Ben, who was standing on the deck near a large box of fireworks when it exploded.

“She ran through the flames to get him,” Harrington said. Bertini, 32, sustained some burns but has been released from the hospital and is by Ben’s side.

“She’s out of her mind,” Harrington said.

One of the fireworks lodged itself in Ben’s arm, Harrington said. Doctors plan to transfer him to stay at Shriners Hospital in Boston, a leading center for pediatric burn care. He will need to stay there at least 40 days, Harrington said.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “He’s the nicest little boy.”

Jonathan LeBlanc, who lives next door, said the explosion was followed by a series of loud popping sounds and screams. When he rushed over with a fire extinguisher, he saw an adult lying on the lawn in obvious pain, and smoke billowing from the deck.

“It was just a very sad scene, traumatic to anyone who saw it,” he said. “From the sound of the pops, it seems like the fireworks all went off at the same time,” he added.

Jim Midgley, the town’s fire chief, said firefighters arrived minutes after the explosion to find the injured.

Midgley said he believes the state legislature should take a hard look at controlling the personal use of fireworks, and preached caution.

“Be careful,” he said. “This is a tragedy that most likely could have been prevented had precautions been taken.”

He said his department has never received any complaints about the family’s annual fireworks display.