Community unites in prayer for those injured
An explosion south of Roswell at a fireworks storage facility left 12 firefighters injured Wednesday.
The incident happened at 12:15 p.m. when all 12 firefighters were inside the building packaging fireworks for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, according to Lance Bateman, captain with the New Mexico State Police.
Two of the firefighters sustained serious injuries and were transported to a hospital outside the area. A subsequent release from the state police said the two firefighters had life-threatening injuries and were airlifted to a trauma center in Lubbock, Texas.
Bateman said at the press conference that the 10 other firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries. No one else was injured or present at the time of the explosion.
Roswell firefighters who responded to the explosion were on the scene within one to two minutes of receiving the call. Bateman said the fire was largely contained within about 20 minutes, but as of 2:30 p.m., the firefighters were still working to mop up a few hot spots.
Agencies that responded to the explosion included the New Mexico State Police, Roswell Fire and Police departments, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. New Mexico state fire marshals were also en route from Santa Fe and would likely take the lead on the fire investigation, Bateman said.
A press release late Wednesday afternoon from the office of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stated Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management were monitoring the situation and that state Homeland Security personnel have been in contact with local officials.
The cause of the explosion is not yet known and Bateman said that although the incident is under investigation, it is not believed malice was involved.
Initially, the explosion prompted the shutdown of a runway on the northwest side of the airport so that emergency personnel could reach the scene, but the runway has since been reopened, Bateman said. He added that he did not believe any other air traffic was interrupted.
Old Y O Crossing Road behind the airport was initially closed to traffic as crews were responding to the explosion. Bateman said it was open again, but he was encouraging people to stay away.
“We just ask people to kind of stay out of the area. There is still emergency traffic going in and out of the area, so for the safety of everybody, we ask them to stay clear,” Bateman said.
In response to a question during the press conference, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said it had not yet been discussed whether the explosion would impact the Fourth of July fireworks display.
“We’re focusing on the firefighters and their families,” he said.
Kintigh encouraged people to pray for the firefighters and their families.
A prayer vigil was organized Wednesday evening by Christ’s Church of Roswell just hours after the explosion.
Area residents gathered in the parking lot of the Wool Bowl to pray for the 12 injured firefighters and their families.
Crystal Graham, whose husband Jacob is the children’s minister at Christ’s Church of Roswell, said the wives of the injured firefighters called the church and requested that a prayer vigil be put on.
“So it was very last minute and we just threw it out there,” she said of the event. Graham said she was glad to see the large turnout.
People from surrounding communities stood together for a half-hour of prayer and religiously infused song from guitarist Cavan Jones and singer Kianna Conway. Many stood together with arms intertwined as they bowed their heads in prayer. Others clung to loved ones tightly with faces stained with tears.
“My prayer tonight is that what this tragedy does is that it brings our community together and our fire department together,” Devin Graham, chief of the Roswell Fire Department said to the crowd.
He added he had a briefing with his staff and some of the department’s other firefighters at 5:30 p.m. and told them now is a time to lead and overcome adversity.
“That challenge is for all of us. That challenge is not only for my organization but the entire community,” Devin Graham said.
First responders in their uniforms — and united by heartache — had a large presence at the event.
Lamar Shaw, deputy chief of Dexter Fire & Rescue, described the day as one of sorrow. He said all firefighters are like one big family.
“So it’s like a family member of our own being hurt,” Shaw said.
Standing alongside some of his fellow firefighters, Shaw said his thoughts are with the loved ones of the wounded firefighters.
Dexter holds a fireworks display similar to Roswell’s and Shaw said that news of the explosion was “an eye-opener” for him, both about the dangers of the job and the fragility of life.
“Nobody realizes how short it is until tragedy strikes,” Shaw said.
The outpouring of concern and support came soon after reports of the explosion had surfaced. A post on the Facebook page of the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office asked for people to pray for the injured and for the first responders out there who are working to keep another such tragedy from happening.
Pioneer Bank of Roswell announced on its Facebook page that they had opened an account to help the firefighters injured in the blast. People can bring their donations to any Pioneer Bank branch.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.