Fairfax City's Fire Marshal said this year's fireworks problems were unrelated to the difficulties that injured 11 people in Northern Virginia in 2007.
Families gathered at to see the Schaefer Pyrotechnics fireworks display last week were disappointed when the show ended without a grand finale. An announcer at the event chalked up the abrupt end to technical difficulties.
Chief Fire Marshal Andrew Wilson cut the show short after witnessing several misfires. No one was injured.
"During the show I stay in the vicinity of the shooters to keep an eye on things, so I had a good place to see the various malfunctions as the show progressed," said Wilson. "Given the number of issues I could see with the misfires, I told them we needed to stop the show."
That wasn't the case in 2007 when Schaefer Pyrotechnics, the same company that set off this year's show, used a defective product that injured 11 people in Northern Virginia.
Misfires at the 2007 Vienna show burned several onlookers, including a woman and her 3-year-old son, who remained in a coma for three days after a shell exploded next to them. The Washington Post reported that a jury ordered Schaefer to pay the mother and son victims $4.75 million.
Wilson witnessed similar difficulties at the Schaefer-run 2007 show in Fairfax City.
"A shell did zip between two Schaefer employees in Fairfax City and slam into a fence, causing the rest of that show to be canceled," he said. "The shooter at our show stopped after that misfire and advised me that he did not want to proceed, and I backed him up on that decision."
The near-deadly malfunctions that plagued six of Schaefer's 2007 Northern Virginia shows were chalked up to a faulty "cake boxes" of three-inch mortars, Wilson said. These fireworks have since been banned in Fairfax City.
Fairfax intended to pay Schaefer $35,000 for fireworks this year, said Director Mike McCarty. But the abbreviated show might mean half the cost.
"We pay 50 percent prior to the show and the remaining fee after the show is completed provided it was completed per the contract," McCarty said. "The city has not paid the remainder of the fee at this time and may not pay the remainder of the fee."
Most of the money comes from Fairfax's general fund, though the city attempts to raise $10,000 every year to offset the cost.
Wilson said everything appeared fine when he dropped by the fireworks setup the night before July 4.
"The normal procedure is that we will inspect the setup several times as they are putting it together," he said. "I went down after the Council meeting about 9:30 on the night of the third and inspected the mortars and gave them approval to begin loading the shells. They actually started loading about 6 a.m. on the fourth."
Problems didn't become apparent until after the first fireworks left the ground.
Fairfax City has used Schaefer for years without injury. MCCarty said the city evaluates the performance of the fireworks contractor every year.
Click the videos to watch footage from this year's fireworks display and the 2007 Vienna performance.