Fireworks, fools and the ‘Hole in the Ground Gang.’

Fireworks. Be it Bonfire Night, the Fourth of July or just for the fun of it most people love them on birthdays, public displays, national celebrations, that kind of thing. We all stand there watching the dazzling flashes, piercing shrieks and deafening blasts while going ‘Oooh!’ and ‘Ahhh!’ and so on. Properly used by responsible, sober people they’re a joy to behold. Improperly acquired by idiots with brains the size of the average sparkler they can be a catastrophe waiting to happen. The legendary ‘Hole in the Ground Gang’ proved as much in truly spectacular fashion.

Fireworks are usually expensive. The bigger the bang the more they cost. They’re especially popular in the UK around November 5, when the failed plot to blow up Parliament is marked by bonfires and firework displays. Guy Fawkes might not have managed to light his fuse, but some of Britain’s finest criminal minds certainly lit theirs when trying to rob a fireworks warehouse in 1995.

The appropriately-named Skyhigh Pyrotechnics had built their factory on a former military airfield, a disused World War Two bomber base to be exact. Being a disused bomber base it still had the bomb dump, an imposing concrete and steel bunker that worked just fine as a safe storage facility and stockroom for Skyhigh’s inventory. You can’t keep tonnes of explosives in a greenhouse or garden shed, after all. Unfortunately, November 5 was fast approaching and Skyhigh’s stock attracted the attention of some true criminal masterminds;

Enter the ‘Hole In The Ground Gang.’ They had cased Skyhigh beforehand, cleverly noticing the huge door protecting the former bomb dump. The door, taller eight feet tall and of steel and reinforced concrete a couple of feet thick, was too big to force and the lock too heavy to pick or pry, but it had to be opened somehow. Fireworks, bought or stolen, were hot property at that time of year. Exactly how hot would become terrifyingly obvious.

Naturally, with safety uppermost in their minds, blasting them was clearly out of the question. Undaunted, one bright spark came up with the idea of cutting open the two-ton door, behind which were tonnes of everything from sparklers to professional display fireworks sold only to licensed experts. But how could they cut them open? The answer was obvious…

Acetylene cutting gear and, yes, you did read that correctly. They really were that stupid.

Our fearless fools decided that the dump being packed to the rafters with explosives was no obstacle to burning through the doors while spraying sparks and white-hot melted steel in all directions. What could possibly go wrong? In short, plenty, as they were about to discover.

The gang assembled, loaded their gear and set off in the dead of night to earn their fortune. It wouldn’t be long before night (very briefly, extremely loudly and providing a free display seen in neighbouring counties) became day. They parked, readied their cutting gear and started carving through the door. It didn’t take long before what anybody with the intelligence of a boiled potato thought would happen, did happen.

Tons of explosives promptly detonated, all at once. Roman candles fired thousands of incendiary balls everywhere, large rockets whizzed and exploded in every conceivable direction, Catherine wheels twirled merrily as they lit up the night and most of the site was devastated. The bomb dump, despite being as solid as you might expect on a former airfield, was obliterated. The roof disintegrated, the walls peeled outward like flower petals and the blast door was found lying on top of the getaway vehicle, itself mangled beyond all recognition. Pieces of concrete and vehicle parts could be found on the site (scattered over most of it, in fact) long after the smoke had cleared.

Having been thoroughly roused by the spontaneous combination of pyrotechnic inventiveness and idiocy of truly staggering proportions, police and fire crews rushed to the scene. They had been summoned by calls both from the county in question and neighbouring counties, the impromptu firework display having burned infinitely brighter than the gang’s collective intellect. Emergency services found a devastated factory, an obliterated bomb dump, a getaway vehicle resembling a Borg flagship and a scene of such total mayhem that even veteran first responders were flabbergasted.

Of the now-infamous ‘Hole In The Ground Gang’ nothing was found. No local hospitals reported any unusual patients with burns or blast injuries so it was assumed (rather against the odds, all things considered) that they all survived and had presumably departed what was left of the crime scene never to return. Either that or Britain had successfully recruited a few more astronauts.

While they came away with police looking for them, terrified out of their minds and probably reeking of black powder and cordite, these criminal cretins did at least have some small consolation. They earned the undying awe of all concerned (albeit for their mind-and-door blowing stupidity) and even secured an Honourable Mention in the 1997 Darwin Awards.

Not quite what they’d come for, but considerably better than the alternative.

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