Four burned after fireworks explode in car

Posted 7/9/24

Two young men and two teens suffered severe burns on the Fourth of July, after fireworks exploded inside their car. 

Dylan McEwan, 25, of Powell, Riley Birky, 23, of Byron, Birky’s …

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Four burned after fireworks explode in car


Two young men and two teens suffered severe burns on the Fourth of July, after fireworks exploded inside their car. 

Dylan McEwan, 25, of Powell, Riley Birky, 23, of Byron, Birky’s 16-year-old brother Tucker Schulenberg of Byron, and Powell High School student Landon Smallwood, 18, all remained in Denver area hospitals on Monday.

The group of four was driving near Cowley on U.S. Highway 310 with roughly 30 mortars when the explosives suddenly detonated, McEwan said.

An official cause has yet to be determined, with the Wyoming Highway Patrol declining to provide any information on Monday.

“It’s still an active investigation,” said Lt. Lee Pence.

For his part, McEwan said he is not sure what caused the fireworks to ignite.

“I don’t know if somebody was smoking a cigarette or not. I honestly don’t know what happened,” McEwan told the Tribune on Monday afternoon. 

“Everything just went black,” he recalled. “Everywhere you looked you got burnt, everywhere you tried to touch you were getting burnt.”

McEwan said he was surprised Birky, the driver, was able to pull over and is thankful they didn’t get in a crash, “because I feel like it could have been a lot worse if we did.”

He said Birky made it out of the car first and helped out Smallwood; McEwan struggled through the smoke, then went back to help Schulenberg, who suffered severe burns up to his knees. 

McEwan carried Schulenberg out of the vehicle to Birky’s fiancee, Sierah Martin, who was driving behind them.

“Thank God that the friends and family that they were going with were following them, because they were able to jump in and help as much as they could, too,” Smallwood’s mother Niki Smith said.


Taken to Denver

Given the extent of their wounds, all four occupants wound up being flown to Denver for treatment. 

“It all happened so fast,” McEwan said, “but I had a couple burns in my throat … they were worried with all the carbon dioxide that I breathed in that it would inflame it, and my throat would close up.”

Birky, Schulenberg and McEwan went directly to UC Health University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. Smallwood was originally flown to Billings before being transferred to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, Colorado.

“It’s going to be very hard. Burns are horrible,” said Debbie Guenthner, McEwan’s mother, adding, “They are all very, very fortunate, all at places where they are receiving excellent care.”

McEwan is in the best shape out of the group. While his medical providers are waiting to see how his burns progress, he said everything was looking good on Monday. McEwan is set to be put in wraps called silvers, which will likely be changed one more time before he’s discharged.

As for Schulenberg, he received the worst injuries of the group and is undergoing treatment for burns over 50% of his body, and internal burns around 20% according to a Facebook page created to provide updates on the brothers.

Birky sustained burns to 23% of his body and 19%-20% inside his mouth, throat and lungs. 

Smallwood, an incoming senior at Powell High School, suffered burns on 29% of his body according to his fundraiser page. He’s expected to be released within the next eight to 10 days, Smith said. He still has two more surgeries ahead of him: one for his left ankle and heel (where he has suffered a severe burn) and another for a burn on the back of his left hand. But Smallwood is determined and his timeline has already been sped up. Initially they were told he might need to spend a month in the hospital, Smith recalled, but Smallwood’s response was, “we’re going to cut it in half.”

When he was asked to stand on Sunday, Smallwood figured he might as well try to walk.

“He actually ended up taking eight steps,” Smith said. “So that was definitely more than anybody expected him to do.”

Smallwood’s grandmother, Brenda Nelson, said her grandson is a strong kid.

“He’s just going to fight his way through this and hopefully be back on his feet as soon as he can,” she said.


Seeking support

As the determined group continues to recover, their families have been hard at work coordinating fundraising and organizing an upcoming benefit.

“I just really want to thank everyone in the community who has reached out and who is showing love and support and compassion,” Guenthner said.

A GoFundMe campaign for all four boys is online at, with a separate GoFundMe campaign for Birky and Schulenberg at and a spotfund campaign for Smallwood at Donatons are also being accepted at any Big Horn Federal under the name TRLD Fundraiser. 

Beyond the spotfund campaign, Nelson said the family could use funds for things such as fuel and food. 

As for Birky and Schulenberg’s family, they do not want help with medical expenses, said Joetta Martin, Sierah’s stepmother. What they do need, she said, are donations to cover costs of living such as housing and groceries.

Updates on Birky, Schulenberg, Smallwood and McEwan can be found on the Facebook page “Tucker, Riley, Landon, and Dylan Fundraiser.” 

“We’re all thankful to be alive, and we’re all thankful for how much support that the community has shown us,” McEwan said Monday, adding, “It’s hard to even fathom really or put into words how thankful we are.”

(CJ Baker, Mark Davis and Zac Taylor contributed reporting.)