A Fourth of July partygoer lost his right hand, and a southwest Omaha home was nearly destroyed in accidents involving fireworks Friday night and Saturday morning.

Jared Spencer, 31, was transported to the Nebraska Medical Center in critical condition before 10:30 p.m. Friday. Rescue personnel located an M-1000 fireworks device in Spencer’s pocket, and it’s believed a similar device caused the trauma to his hand, said Douglas County Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Sellers.

Spencer had been using illegal fireworks, Sellers said.

Nobody was injured in a one-story house fire at 16219 Riggs St. that was thought to have been caused by fireworks early Saturday morning.

A neighbor said the home’s owner, Jeffrey J. Rezac, had swept up fireworks remnants and placed them in plastic garbage cans next to the back of his house. The neighbor awoke about 3 a.m. and saw flames on the side and back of the house.

“It was all engulfed,” said the neighbor, who declined to give her name.

The neighbor then ran to the house and knocked on the door to alert the sleeping residents inside. She said that the house was full of smoke. One man, three teenagers and a dog safely got out of the house.

The neighbor said her husband attempted to extinguish the fire with a garden hose.

Fire crews arrived on the scene and quickly extinguished the fire. Omaha Fire Chief Joe Salcedo said it appears the fire was caused by fireworks placed in a plastic tub next to the house. From there, the fire spread up the side of the home and into the attic.

The neighbor said that the entire neighborhood, which is south of Zorinsky Lake, had been using fireworks.

“It was extremely loud and out of control,” the neighbor said. “It’s like that every year.”

The fire caused an estimated $80,000 in damage to the property, Salcedo said.

Two other fires, one that occurred Thursday evening and one Friday at about 1:30 p.m., are also being investigated to determine if fireworks were the cause.

Fire melted a plastic playground structure just 25 feet from Meadows Elementary School about 5 p.m. Thursday, Salcedo said. The Omaha Fire Department is still investigating how the fire started, although Ralston Public Schools Superintendent Mark Adler suspects it was more likely an act of vandalism than careless handling of fireworks.

Adler said the structure, which was installed at the school three years ago, will need to be replaced at an estimated cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

“I have a hard time believing it was not done by somebody. Equipment like that doesn’t just start on fire,” Adler said. “It could have been an accident with fireworks, but we didn’t really see evidence of that.”

He said the school has had issues over the last two years with vandalism, including garbage cans being lit on fire.

Firefighters also responded to a house fire at 20605 Roundup Circle in the Elkhorn area about 1:30 p.m. Friday thought to have possibly been caused by fireworks, Salcedo said. Damage to the exterior and roof of the home was estimated at about $15,000.

Spencer, who lost his hand, was one of numerous people treated at Omaha area hospitals Friday night for fireworks-related injuries.

At the Nebraska Medical Center, where Spencer was taken, at least a dozen people were treated and four people were admitted for hand burns, said spokeswoman Jenny Nowatzke. She attributed most fireworks injuries to artillery shells. Spencer’s condition was not being released Saturday evening.

Alegent Creighton Health treated and released 19 patients, at least seven of whom were children, Friday night at its six Omaha area hospitals, spokeswoman Kathy Niver said.

Methodist Health System treated 13 people for fireworks-related injuries at its three Omaha area hospitals for injuries to victims’ hands, eyes and faces, said spokeswoman Claudia Bohn.

Meanwhile, things were relatively quiet at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. Spokeswoman Cherie Lytle said no one was treated for fireworks-related injuries Friday. Since June 20, the hospital has treated three children who received injuries from fireworks.”

“That is much lower than years past,” Lytle said. “We’ll cross our fingers that the trend holds through the weekend.”

Under Nebraska law, the sale and use of consumer fireworks ended at midnight on the Fourth.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1414, paige.yowell@owh.com

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