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Fireworks victims remembered at Fourth of July ceremonies

Revelers celebrating Independence Day took time out Friday to remember the five people killed in a fireworks explosion that forced the cancellation of fireworks shows in the area.

Bonita Springs Mayor Paul Pass led a moment of silence before the city's annual Fourth of July celebration, and another observance was planned in Naples.

"They loved the rockets' glare ... They would want us to continue on," said Pass, adding condolences to the families of those who died in the Wednesday blast. He said it was the most devastating thing that has happened to him as mayor.

"It just crushes your heart. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails," Pass said.

Workers were transferring fireworks Wednesday afternoon at a state park when a series of powerful blasts erupted, shooting flames into the sky and shaking the ground. The truck was carrying $50,000 worth of fireworks destined for displays in Bonita Springs and Naples, which were canceled.

On Friday, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wrapped up their on-the-ground probe of the explosion.

A report from the ATF is expected within two weeks, Lee County Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Maschmeier told the Naples Daily News. The names of four unidentified victims, whose bodies were severely burned, may be released then, he said.

The fifth victim, identified as Ken Kinard of Cocoa Beach, died Thursday at the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital where he had been airlifted for treatment.

The sole survivor of the blast, Juanita Combs, has been treated and released from HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers.

Hazardous materials crews on Friday searched the area of the deadly explosion. They cleaned up debris scattered over 100 yards to make sure the park is safe for the public when it is eventually reopened. Lee sheriff's officials said about a dozen fireworks were still on site Friday, but they were in a sealed container and posed no public danger.

Sunset Fireworks, the company shipping the fireworks display, released a statement Friday saying the company was devastated by the loss of five of its most experienced pyrotechnicians.

The statement also defended the company's safety record.

"Reports in the media that raised questions about the safety and training of these skilled artisans as well as Sunset Fireworks were incorrect and irresponsible," the statement said. "Sunset Fireworks has an excellent safety and regulatory record."

According to the company's Web site, Sunset Fireworks has been in the pyrotechnics business for more than 40 years and provided fireworks for organizations including Walt Disney World, Six Flags Theme Parks, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The company and its sister company Pyro Products have been the target of several federal investigations in recent years following deadly explosions at their plants. The company was sued in February by two workers who were injured in explosions that killed two others at a suburban St. Louis fireworks plant in November 1999.

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