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Fifth person dies in Florida fireworks blast

Firefighters work the scene of a deadly fireworks explosion at Lovers Key State Park, south of Fort Myers, Florida.
Firefighters work the scene of a deadly fireworks explosion at Lovers Key State Park, south of Fort Myers, Florida.

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A fireworks display being assembled for a July Fourth celebration erupted in flames, setting off explosions that killed four people. (July 3)
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BONITA SPRINGS, Florida (CNN) -- A massive fireworks explosion in Florida claimed a fifth life Thursday when a severely burned worker died in a Tampa hospital, authorities said.

The fireworks detonated Wednesday afternoon as workers prepared to set up a July Fourth display at Lovers Key State Park, about 30 miles south of Fort Myers. Four people were killed in the blast initially, and officials said their bodies had not been identified.

The fifth victim died Thursday morning at Tampa General Hospital, where he was taken for treatment of life-threatening burns, said Debbi Redfield, a spokeswoman for the Bonita Springs Fire Department.

The scene of the explosion smoldered Thursday as firefighters continued dumping water on the site. They said they feared that coastal breezes might fan new fires. Another cache of fireworks exploded overnight, Redfield said.

"Even our command post has been moved back about a quarter-mile from the scene," Redfield said. "Our experts expect there was probably a very good chance there still could be live explosives all around the area."

The dead are believed to have worked for Sunset Fireworks Ltd., a St. Louis, Missouri-area company that was setting up the display Wednesday.

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives questioned the company's president Thursday afternoon, said Sgt. Michael Maschmeier, a spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff's Department.

A recorded statement from Sunset Fireworks said company officials were headed to the scene and referred further comment to a trade association.

The city of Bonita Springs first hired the company to put on its annual Independence Day fireworks in 2002, Redfield said.

The explosion triggered multiple secondary blasts that scattered debris around a 100-yard radius on a peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from Estero Bay.

"Some of the shrubs and trees are charred," Redfield said. "There are some remains of the semi tractor-trailer -- it appears most of the fireworks were in that truck. There's also the cab and a little bit of the back of a box truck, and a pickup truck that was also burned."

One woman escaped with minor injuries by diving underwater when the blasts erupted, Maschmeier said.

About 80 people -- including paramedics, police bomb squads and federal agents -- are involved in the investigation, and the cause had not been determined Thursday. "We may never know what took place," Maschmeier said.

The park has been closed, and the fireworks display canceled.

"A tragedy of this sort is devastating to a community like Bonita Springs," Redfield said. "People who were working to give us a beautiful holiday celebration were killed doing their jobs, and we mourn for their friends and families."

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