The fireworks display launched from Dover's Garrison Hill Park was cut short by a shell that malfunctioned on Sunday night, according to the city recreation department which ran the event.

According to a release from the City of Dover one of the six-inch shells failed to launch completely about 15 minutes into the display. It fell back to the ground setting other fireworks on the ground on fire and causing an explosion, according to city officials.

The display was immediately halted and the fireworks were extinguished by the Dover Fire and Rescue team already in place at the launch site.

None of the first responders or fireworks technicians launching the shells were injured in the explosion but it was a close call, Dover Recreation Department Director Gary Bannon told Seacoast Current.

"I am surprised no one was (hurt) because of the amount of material that was dispersed throughout the park and under the pressure of the explosion. They were able to find cover. It just missed everybody," Bannon said.

Burn mark in the grass at Garrison Hill Park in Dover after fireworks explosion
Burn mark in the grass at Garrison Hill Park in Dover after fireworks explosion (Shawn Olsten, Townsquare Media NJ)

Firefighters were at the park on Monday morning looking for pieces of wood, plastic and metal from the explosion that scattered all over the park but were missed in the initial search in the dark on Sunday night.

Some of the pieces landed on top of and around the water tower and ignited only a portion of what was left to still be launched including the grand finale, according to Bannon.

"The finale was adjacent to it and it landed on a section with a lesser amount of shells left in it but it was still significant. It was a major combined explosion with all those pieces that did damage spreading everything around. Thank God no one got hurt," Bannon said. "There was so much material there that went throughout the park in all directions. Everyone ran for cover and ducked."

Bannon said he was at the bottom of the hill when the explosion happened and already knew something was wrong.

"The people around me said 'What is that? That's not the finale?' I said, 'No, that's something that didn't go off correctly.' I waited a minute to see if there was anything more," Bannon said.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office was notified of the incident.

Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group of Jaffrey was hired by the city to run the display. They also launched the display in Hampton Beach. Bannon said the technicians told him the malfunction was a rare occurrence.

"You could be struck by lightning twice more often than this would happen," Bannon said the technicians told him.

There were no crowds inside the park as the display was planned to be launched higher so it could be seen from anywhere in the city to discourage large crowds, Bannon told Seacoast Current in May.

There was no downtown concert or vendors in the park.

"It's unfortunate it happened. We're thankful no one got hurt. We were hoping for a complete show but we didn't. We'll look forward to the future," Bannon said,

Dover fireworks before they abruptly ended as seen from Rollinsford
Dover fireworks before they abruptly ended as seen from Rollinsford (Shawn St. Hilaire)

Photographer Shawn St. Hilaire told Seacoast Current that he was watching from the field next to the Garrison Players theater in Rollinsford.

"We were watching them and there was a big explosion that looked like it came from the ground up. That was it. They fired one more off," St. Hilaire told Seacoast Current.

Before the explosion, St. Hilaire said they weren't being launched very fast.

"They got off maybe 10 or 15 and then boom," St. Hilaire said. "We had a great view of everything until it ended."

Garrison Hill Park was reopened to the public at 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

Fireworks displays are scheduled for Portsmouth and Sanford on Monday night.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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