HIGHLAND, Utah — A Highland family is recounting the frightening moments an aerial firework malfunctioned, shooting an explosive ball of fire straight toward four little girls and their uncle.
The Gardner family is now sharing a message and warning for other families, ahead of the Pioneer Day holiday.
On Wednesday evening, 6-year old quadruplets Indie, Esme, Scarlett and Evie twirled around in their living room. They were waiting to head out to dinner with their favorite uncle, Oakland Aubrey.
He's especially their favorite, after what they witnessed on the Fourth of July.
"They were honestly, just so worried about Oakland," mom Ashley Gardner recounted. "Because the last they had seen was his shirt burned and blown open."
Ashley and her husband, Tyson Gardner, explained that Tyson's whole family came over for a fun evening of fireworks. They said they set the fireworks up on the street, and everyone sat on the lawn, away from the fireworks.
As they lit the very first one off, Ashley said it shot once in the air, and then malfunctioned.
"We think that the first one went up, and it blew out the bottom of the firework and tipped it over," she explained.
Ashley was taking video at the time. At first, she shows Oakland with the girls cozied up all around him and on his lap. She quickly pans over to the fireworks. Suddenly, sparks and fire are shooting out on the ground in different directions.
One aerial shot under her mother-in-law's car, Ashley said. The third one headed right for the family.
"I saw it going straight for my brother-in-law Oakland and all of my four girls," she recounted.
"It looked like a baseball that was on fire, and so it just came super fast, it hit me right on the chest" Oakland remembered.
He said he pushed the girls away and the aerial hit him in the stomach, exploding right on him.
"I looked down, and saw my shirt was blown off. And I was scared to look at it," he said.
Tyson ran toward the firework to kick it away. Despite it being a 20-shot aerial, he and Ashley said it only fired off three rounds before suddenly coming to a stop. In that time, the family erupted in chaos as they frantically tried to get away and hide.
"It was scary," Tyson said. "Immediately the panic, the screams."
They'd soon realize that Oakland had gotten the girls out of harm's way just in time, as he took the explosion instead of them. One of the girls' dresses did catch on fire, and another family member jumped in with a blanket to put it out.
Oakland immediately rushed to the ER, suffering second degree burns and shrapnel embedded in his arm and leg.
Nearly two weeks later, Oakland's stomach is still bandaged up, and his arms have scars from the shrapnel. He hasn't been able to work, he said, because of the burns.
"My brother-in-law is a hero," Ashley said. "He threw my kids off of him, and took the shot, it hit him in the chest."
Instead of fireworks on Pioneer Day, Ashley said she ordered 600 glow sticks for a fun, non-explosive holiday. They plan to watch professional fireworks shows from now on.
She described how they hope other families can learn from what happened to them.
"I hope that people take the time to take those extra precautions," she said. "Make sure you have water by, make sure that you have a cinderblock or blocks or bricks or something around it to stabilize it, and just keep your family safe. Make sure your family is further away from where you're lighting off."
The Gardner's are thanking God that the girls' favorite uncle will be okay. And they're grateful Oakland saved his four little nieces from that fiery explosion.
"We were watched over and protected,"Ashley said, tearing up as she spoke. "We had so many guardian angels watching over us because honestly, that should have ended way worse than it did."