2 Missing After Southern California Fireworks Explosion

March 17, 2021 Updated: March 17, 2021

ONTARIO, Calif.—Authorities sought Wednesday to identify the bodies of two people killed in a huge fireworks explosion in a Southern California neighborhood, saying they have not yet determined if the victims are two cousins reported missing since the blast.

Tuesday’s explosion left a vast debris field scattered over the inland neighborhood in Ontario, California, and bomb teams were sent in to defuse any unexploded fireworks and make the area safe for the return of evacuated residents.

Though two people were killed in the explosion, the coroner’s office has not yet been able to identify their bodies, Ontario Police Chief Mike Lorenz said at a media briefing Wednesday. The two bodies were discovered in the backyard of the property where the blasts began.

Reported missing are cousins Alex Paez, 38, and Ceasar Paez, 20. They have been associated with the property where the explosion occurred but officials have not confirmed that they are the people who were killed.

Law enforcement agents—including the FBI—are investigating the explosion of what were believed to be commercial-grade fireworks in Ontario, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. A huge plume of smoke could be seen for miles. Fireworks continued to explode Tuesday evening, more than six hours after the initial blast.

Fireworks are illegal in Ontario, as in many California cities. Lorenz said officers have been called to the area in the past for reports of fireworks being set off.

The debris field encompasses 80 structures in the residential neighborhood, officials said, and has left dozens of residents displaced as two dozen bomb technicians work to disable any fireworks that were still live.

There is still a “very significant chance” that more fireworks could explode, Lorenz said.

Ontario Fire Chief Ray Gayk said it could take days for the area to be safe enough for residents to return. Authorities still have not been able to access the area where the explosion began.

“It’s too dangerous for us to get in there,” he said. “Today’s about making this place safe.”