Abandoned New Orleans wharf burns down; fireworks to blame?

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The remains of an abandoned river wharf went up in flames over the weekend in New Orleans as fireworks went off nearby, but officials haven’t yet determined whether the display played a role in the enormous fire.

The fireworks began around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

City records show that a permit was obtained for a “land-based pyrotechnic display” along the Mississippi River at Mardi Gras World, where many of the floats used in the yearly Carnival season processions are stored. New Orleans Fire Department inspectors monitored the show, which was put on for a gala.

Within 30 minutes of the display starting, wooden pieces of the former Market Street Wharf lit on fire a few hundred feet up the river.

Winds pushed the fire close to the entrance of an active wharf, which is where police noticed it. More than 40 firefighters tended to the flames that stretched about four blocks at their peak, the fire department said in a statement. No injuries were reported.

David Spear — co-owner of AFX Pro, which put on the fireworks show — told the news outlet that he understands the pyrotechnics need to be investigated in relation to the fire.

But he said the flames started more than 200 yards (182 meters) away from the clearance area required between the display and homes, vehicles or people. Spear also said the winds at the time were well below the safety limit and that the decision to continue with the fireworks was made in consultation with the fire department inspector on site.

The former wharf used to house heavy materials that ships brought into the port. Termite attacks and Hurricane Katrina damaged it, and a 2006 fire almost completely destroyed the facility when it was being torn down.

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