Explosion of illegal fireworks costs man his hand

A Medford man had his hand blown off by an illegal fireworks early Friday and is being treated at Oregon Health and Science University, police reported.

Medford police said David Jerald Jenkins, 37, tried to relight a mortar that had failed to ignite in the driveway of a home in the 200 block of Mace Road at 12:22 a.m. The firework had only about one-quarter inch of fuse left and exploded in Jenkins' hand.

"I saw the pictures. It's a devastating injury. A majority of the hand is gone," said Lt. Mike Budreau.

Police said Jenkins and some friends had been attempting to light an aerial-display rocket, which failed.

"They tried to light it (and) it dudded out," Budreau said. "It didn't launch into the air. It just kind of flew into the driveway."

Police reported that Jenkins removed the explosive mortar from the top of the rocket and put it in his garage. After about two hours of drinking with others, he came back out and lit the removed shell, resulting in the explosion, police said.

"This is one of the more graphic injuries I've actually seen where somebody has survived," Budreau said.

Jenkins was transported to Providence Medford Medical Center before being transported to OHSU for further treatment. OHSU officials said Friday afternoon that he was receiving treatment at the hospital, so no word on his condition was available.

Police cited Jenkins for illegal possession of fireworks, a violation that carries a $250 base fine.

Police have seized a limited amount of illegal fireworks this year as Independence Day approaches. Budreau said that is likely to change, adding that a particularly high number of illegal fireworks were confiscated in 2012.

"We are really going to have a no-tolerance policy this year," Budreau said. We've been a little loose in years past."

Chief Gordon Sletmoe of Medford Fire-Rescue said his department will team up with Medford police to enforce fireworks laws and seize illegal fireworks because of numerous complaints they received during 2012.

"We're going to be doing very proactive enforcement," Sletmoe said. "We got direction from our City Council that this is a high priority."

Sletmoe added that 90-degree temperatures have increased the urgency.

"We are really hot and dry right now," he said.

Fireworks that explode, fly into the air, travel more than 6 feet horizontally or travel more than 12 inches vertically from the ignition point are illegal under Oregon law.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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