One man was killed and three others injured Thursday morning when fireworks to be used for the Comanche, Texas annual Independence Day celebration exploded.
The men were unloading the fireworks from a trailer just before 9 a.m. at the Comanche High School softball field in preparation for Friday night’s Family on the Fourth Musical Celebration & Fireworks when the explosion was seen and felt in the nearby area. Dr. Russell Reynolds, a 51-year-old Comanche chiropractor since 1986, died.
"Our hearts are in mourning," said Comanche VFD Lt. Marcus Nettleton. "These people are great people."
Fire crews put out the flames in minutes, said Nettleton, who could only release the names of two of the injured men. Eddie Parker, Rex Plumlee and one other man were rushed to Comanche County Medical Center, Nettleton said, adding that Parker and the other man have been released and Plumlee’s release hadn’t been confirmed.
Nettleton said other people were there helping, but they weren’t injured by the blast.
Nettleton said it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the explosion, but state fire marshals were investigating. He said it could be days or weeks before they release a report.
The event — which was canceled immediately after the explosion — is Comanche’s largest and attracts visitors from up to 100 miles away. Nettleton said most Fourth of Julys, the town temporarily quadruples its size of 4,259.
He said it is shocking for the community to go from anticipating its "great celebration" to mourning so quickly.
"For this event to take place as it has is pretty devastating to our entire community," Nettleton said. "It’s going to be a wound."
Nettleton said it’s the first incident like this in the event’s 24-year history. The event is funded by tens of thousands of donated dollars and is co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Comanche Kiwanis Club, officials said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office has a permit on file that authorized Friday’s pyrotechnics, said spokeswoman Rachel Moreno. She declined to release any additional information, citing the ongoing investigation into the explosion.
Comanche Mayor Ronnie Clifton said the fatal blast "is a great loss."
"Our hearts go out to the families of these folks, and it’s going to be tough to overcome," Clifton said. "I can’t even begin to express my heartfelt sympathy to the families of the deceased and injured."
Clifton said the men injured in the incident “have a very endearing spirit,” and he expects Comanche residents to grieve and be sad, “but because of the spirit they always displayed, we will bounce back.”
"We’re still in shock," said Christine Perkins, executive director of the Comanche Chamber of Commerce. "And definitely in a community our size, there will be some kind of ceremony” to recognize the victims," she said.
Comanche is located 83 miles southeast from Abilene.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.