The Centreville homeowner had been making homemade fireworks for several years. But when a July 15, 2007 explosion blew a hole in his roof — and the resulting fire caused $200,000 damage to his house – his hobby came to the attention of Fairfax County fire officials.
When the smoke cleared, they seized some 3,000 pounds of explosives from his home and charged him with the manufacture, possession and use of explosive materials or devices. In court eight months later, he received a fine and a suspended jail sentence and was ordered to perform community service — and pay nearly $95,000 restitution to the fire department.
The explosion and fire occurred on a quiet, Sunday afternoon. The middle-aged man was working in his garage grinding metal on a grinding wheel when a spark flew up and touched off a nearby box of explosive products.
“He was making a mortar stand — with the mortars behind him,” said MPO Bryan Cooke of the county police department’s bomb squad. “The spark ignited them and burned the garage up to the second story.”
“His son, 8, who was upstairs, jumped out of a window,” continued Cooke. “Meanwhile, the dad tried to put out the fire with a hose. Then he started hiding fireworks in a neighbor’s garage and on his property.”
Responding firefighters initially attacked the flames from inside the house. But once they learned of the explosives in the home, they had to mount an exterior attack with water streams from the ladder truck and hand-held lines off the other trucks.
Because they had to battle the blaze that way, it took some three hours to bring it under control and specialty units were called in to assist. Besides Stations 17 from Centreville and 40 from Fairfax, fire and rescue personnel also came from the Chantilly, Fair Oaks and Fairview stations.
Altogether, almost 90 people responded from nine, different engine companies, bringing with them two fire trucks, three EMS (emergency medical services) units, the HAZMAT response team and representatives from the Fire Marshal’s Office.
And when explosive materials were discovered, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — plus the county Police Department’s Explosive Ordnance Team — also joined in. In addition, the possibility of further explosions forced several nearby houses to be evacuated. The families were kept away the next day, too, while county and federal bomb experts removed more explosives from the home.
Cooke said the man was a chemical engineer in a fireworks club and it was his year to put on a show. He’d collected all the chemicals and fireworks for it over four years. But, said the officer, “We seized it all and no one got hurt, so it was a good outcome.”
Interestingly enough, added Cooke, “The next day, he was supposed to start a job as an FBI contractor. I don’t know whether he ever did, but he had to pay for all the damage to his house, himself. In court, his charge was dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor, but he paid for the cleanup operations and had to come to HAZMAT meetings and teach us how to make fireworks.”