When four friends arrived at Smith Point County Park in Shirley early Sunday, they didn’t imagine something floating in the water would add a bang to their Memorial Day weekend.
Michelle Liberti, 23, of Medford, said at first, it looked like a propane tank for camping. Then she read the ominous directions written on the gray cylinder with a silver tint.
“It said ‘to arm, rotate’ so I put it down,” Liberti said.
Police officers called to the scene soon realized the device sitting on the sand was potentially more harmful than a camping propellant for a holiday weenie roast.
It was an errant military flare, Suffolk police said, and after evacuating part of the beach, the device was buried in some sand. Officers from the Suffolk police emergency services unit then blew up the flare.
“It kind of ruined everybody’s beach day,” Liberti said. “But better safe than sorry. . . . At least some kid didn’t find it.”
Earlier, curious beachgoers, now safely at a distance, were left to wonder what had caused the commotion. Others trained binoculars on the five distant emergency vehicles parked on the beach with red lights flashing.
“We just heard rumors,” said John DeCanio, 60, of Sterling, Virginia, as his friend, Don Hammerschlag, 60, of Sayville, looked through binoculars at the scene unfolding about 2,000 feet away.
Farther down the beach, Sistina Aversano, 52, of Smithtown, sat with her husband, Mike, and their two sons, Anthony and Michael, 14, with a patch of beach all to themselves. The family had come there to go camping.
“Right now we’re not worried because they’re not chasing us off the beach,” Sistina Aversano said.
At about 12:48 p.m. a puff of sand rose from where the police vehicles had gathered and a loud bang quickly followed as the flare exploded.
Soon after the detonation, Suffolk police said it was safe for beachgoers to return.
In a news release, Suffolk police confirmed the detonation but didn’t say how the flare had floated to shore about one mile east of the East Pavilion.
As frightening and potentially dangerous as they are in a pair of untrained hands, it’s not entirely uncommon for military flares to wash ashore. Just last month, a flare found its way to shore on a beach in Duxbury, Massachusetts and was detonated by a state police bomb squad, according to The Boston Globe.
In recent years, similar devices have washed up on beaches in Alabama, California and Florida.
A photograph of the flare found Sunday showed it contained instructions in English and French about how to arm or safely disarm the device. Liberti’s boyfriend, off-duty from his job at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, took the photo and also had called police.
Afterward, Pete Offermann, 44, a carpenter from Medford, and the first in Liberti’s group to spot the flare bobbing in the water, said he was glad the excitement was over.
“Now we’re going to enjoy the rest of our day, eat and barbecue,” Offermann said, “and hopefully nothing else floats ashore.”