A large-scale illegal fireworks display in a housing complex adjacent to the state’s largest Fourth of July celebration turned into what police termed a near-riot Monday as tens of thousands of revelers tried to filter out of Downtown.
As the grand finale of the Red, White and Boom! event exploded over the Illinois River, emergency responders were called at 9:46 p.m. to a trash bin fire in nearby Taft Homes, where commercial-grade fireworks had been shooting into the sky since before the riverfront show began.
A fire engine and two Peoria police officers responded, but encountered what police described as a crowd of hundreds of people and an impassable Hancock Street choked with trash and fireworks — both live and spent. The debris blocked access to the burning trash bin.
Police at that point began ordering the crowds to disperse, and firefighters hosed down the live fireworks and smoldering remnants of spent shells. That’s when mortar-type fireworks began firing toward and exploding near the officers and firefighters. Some people also hurled bottles and rocks, according to police.
At least three shells exploded on the engine, causing burn marks, and one hit a firefighter in the shoulder, charring his heat-resistant gear and temporarily initiating hearing loss. Division Chief Gary Van Voorhis said Tuesday the firefighter declined medical attention at the scene and remained on duty.
One of the first responding police officers also suffered some hearing loss and sought treatment at a local hospital later in the night, according to Peoria police Capt. Mike Scally, who also was the event commander for the riverfront fireworks display. The injured officer was not admitted to the hospital and had submitted a report on the incident before ending his shift.