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Musical worker burned during show

A Medora Musical worker is recovering after receiving first and second degree burns to her face, neck, arm and torso during last Thursday's performance.

Kathy Yu, 22, of Taiwan, underwent a skin graft Sunday and was still recovering Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center in Dickinson.

"They told me no scar will last," Yu said.

The musical's Front of House Manager and Yu's superior, Jeremiah Swenson, of Minneapolis, said Yu was carrying a box with four mortars to be used during a pyrotechnics scene of the musical when two of them detonated, severely burning Yu.

Swenson said the explosion lit Yu's shirt and hair on fire, leaving her with second degree burns on her right forearm, ribs, neck and first degree burns on her face.

"She got very lucky in the fact that it wasn't the one in front of her face," Swenson said.

Medora Police Chief John Bey said from what he understood, the incident occurred near the end of the musical.

Billings County Deputy Sheriff Pat Rummel said emergency services received a call on state radio at approximately 10:05 p.m., with the musical generally ending at 10:30 p.m.

Swenson said the mortars are controlled and detonated wirelessly with a frequency box. Each mortar has a switch and the mortars which exploded were not turned on, he said.

"The thing with North Dakota, every other state that I know of anyways, you are required to have a trained pyrotechnician," Swenson said. "In North Dakota, apparently you do not. I believe there are rules that you need to have certain protective gear and they (pyrotechnics) need to be carried in a metal container."

The pyrotechnics, however, were stored and transported in a plastic container and Swenson said there is speculation that static from the plastic box may have been the key to the mortars igniting.

Swenson also said from what he understands of pyrotechnics, they must be in temperature-controlled storage, however that also was not being followed.

"No one has come to investigate ... about safety hazards," Swenson said. "They don't know why the product malfunctioned the way it did."

Swenson, who has worked at the musical for the past six years, said pyrotechnic safety training provided to workers is very brief, no protective gear is provided and numerous people have handled the pyrotechnics portion of the show.

Yu said musical officials did not show her how to handle the mortars and pyrotechnics other than how to set them up in their respective places. She feels the Medora Foundation should take better safety precautions.

Swenson said the Medora Foundation called the pyrotechnic manufacturer and was told they had never heard of such an occurrence.

While the incident occurred Aug. 27, no police report has been filed and will not be done until Wednesday.

Swenson said no agencies or personnel have taken an in depth look into how the incident occurred.

Musical officials have ceased pyrotechnics until the cause of the incident is figured out, Swenson said.

Yu said she does not know how long she will be in the hospital as she may need further skin grafts.

"If it was a minor one or a severe one, I'd have the same response to you," said Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. "It's not a major incident. I have no comment to you."

Burning Hills Amphitheater Manager Kinley Slauter said workers' compensation will cover all medical costs, but declined further comment.

Those close to Yu feel the incident was unwarranted and could have been prevented.

"I feel so bad that she is going to end up with scars on her body for you know, $6.25 an hour," Swenson said. "It's not fair. When you work for the Medora Foundation, you work like a dog."