A Calais man was killed Saturday night when he set off fireworks on top of his head, and at least four other people were reportedly injured while handling fireworks in what state Fire Marshal Joe Thomas called one of the most disturbing July 4th holiday weekends in recent memory.
Thomas said 22-year-old Devon Staples of Calais was killed after placing a fireworks mortar tube atop his head and setting it off with explosives inside the tube around 10 p.m. It was the first fireworks-related death in Maine since fireworks were legalized in 2012, Thomas said.
“It’s certainly a tragedy and hopefully a learning experience for the public, that these devices are not toys,” Thomas said Sunday evening.
In addition to the Calais death, Thomas said he was informed by his staff of several accidents involving the improper handling of fireworks, including people who were injured in the towns of Lebanon, Friendship, Jefferson and Woodstock. Thomas said the injuries ranged from burns and cuts to eye injuries caused by flying materials.
He was unable to provide additional details.
On its Facebook page, the Lebanon Fire Department reported that fire crews responded Saturday night to Little River Road after receiving a report that a “young man” suffered burns from handling fireworks. The victim was transported by ambulance to Southern Maine Health Care in Sanford.
The hospital’s medical staff determined the victim would not need to be airlifted to a hospital better equipped to treat his burns. No other details about what happened, his condition or the victim’s name were available Sunday.
“The bottom line is, people are not following the instructions on how to handle fireworks safely. It’s a simple as that,” Thomas said.
He said he found the circumstances of Staples’ death particularly disturbing.
An investigator for the state Fire Marshal’s Office told Thomas that Staples was partying and drinking with friends in a friend’s backyard on South Street when Staples brought up the possibility of staging a “stunt” that would involve placing the fireworks mortar tube on top of his head and setting it off.
Mortar tubes are typically made of cardboard or some type of composite material, Thomas said. They are designed to hold prepackaged charges that launch fireworks into the air.
“His friends apparently thought they had talked him out of trying it,” Thomas said. “When they thought the issue had been put to rest, they went back to the firepit.”
Shortly after, they noticed Staples had placed the mortar tube on his head and was ready to set off the fireworks. The explosion caused a fatal head injury and Staples died instantly.