Each year on the 3rd or 4th of July, my family and I meet up with the pyro crew that we are members of, and we put on a 15-minute firework show on the beach. What is so special about our show? Our show is one of only three “hand-lit” fireworks shows left in California for the 4th of July holiday. We light off more than 500 fireworks with road flares! Below are pictures and a video of what it takes to put on a fireworks show. It’s a blast!
The day starts with packing up our personal equipment like shovels, rakes, hamers, hard hats, fireman’s turnout gear, and of course plenty of BBQ fixin’s!
We then head to Rialto, CA to Pyro Spectacular to pick up our truck which has been pre-packed with everything we need to put on a show. When a city or organization decides to host a fireworks show, they call a fireworks company like Pyro Spectacular. Pyro Spectacular then contacts a state-licensed fireworks operator, who represents them and operates the show. The operator assembles a crew to assist them with setting up the show and setting off the fireworks if it is a hand-lit show. This picture shows only a part of the 400 trucks that are pre-loaded for the 4th of July weekend.
We arrive at Will Roger’s Stage Beach at noon, and have a quick meeting where we get an overview of the schedule and what to expect for the day.
Here is our blank sand canvas. The Bel Air Bay Club hires Pyro Spectacular each year for this show, and creates a berm to protect the launch area from the high tide that starts during the show.
“No fireworks” No problem!
We first unload all of the equipment from the truck and start setting up the fireworks racks on the beach. The green racks are for fireworks with a 3” diameter, and the purple racks are for fireworks with a 4” diameter. The pyro is in the boxes on the right.
We arrange the 3” and 4” racks based on a diagram that we create of the show. We set up four sections facing the ocean with each section comprised of three rows of 7 racks.
We attach cleats to the side of each rack for stabilization as well as angling the racks so the fireworks shoot out into the ocean. Though the shells (fireworks) burst over the ocean the prevailing winds cause the ash and debris to land back on the sand.
After we add the cleats, we then build up sand around each of the guns (individual tubes) for another measure of stability.
After lunch we have a safety meeting for those who are new to the crew, talking about how to safely handle the pyro.
We start unpacking the fireworks and prepare them to be dropped into the guns.
Fireworks is good eatin’.
Its pyro…in a box.
In addition to traditional fireworks, there are also “cakes”. Cakes are a series of fireworks packaged in groups of 36 to 500 hits, and they ignite in rapid succession.
This is a smaller cake with 45 shots.
Some of the cakes are put in wooden boxes for stabilization. Noticing a theme?
3” shells. The spherical part is the actual shell that holds the stars. Stars are pellets that actually produce the light. The flat cone on the bottom contains the lift charge. When you light the fuse, the lift charge ignites sending the shell into the sky. A 3” shell will lift 300 ft. into the air, and the firework will span 300 feet.
We sort the fireworks by style.
We then drop the shells into the guns.
For hand-lit shows, the blue tabs cover the fuse.
The white tabs are connectors for an electronic show.
Some shells are set up individually, and others are grouped together.
The finale fireworks come strung together similar to the cakes.
A wonderfully horrible picture, yes. But it really is a beautiful finale.
The finale is covered with foil to prevent any sparks from setting it off early.
Cakes are placed near the berm.
The beaches of Normandy.
Gertrude wouldn’t relax near live fireworks. Just saying…
Artsy sepia-toned photo #1.
Artsy sepia-toned photo #2.
After dinner, we get in our Fireman’s turnout gear.
Lighting off fireworks is a family affair.
We have another safety briefing; this time, how to safely light the fireworks.
Practice makes something.
9pm rolls around! We light the flares and start the show.
We have two sections being lit at the same time. We start with sections 1 and 3, working our way from right to left.
Each lighter has a spotter that helps to ensure their surroundings are safe, and helps put out any sparks from smoldering on the lighter’s clothes.
Yep, putting out sparks. No big deal.
Step 1: Light the firework.
Step 2: TURN! and wait for the fuse to ignite the lift charge.
Extra spotters are standing by with fire extinguishers and first aid supplies. A state fire marshal is also present during the entire show.
I guess some fireworks picture are in order.
This is one of the cakes. 10 hits ignite at the same time in a fan shape. This cakes repeats ten times.
Fireworks go boom. See the video in the next post.
This looks like a fun but tough job to have. I hope you were wearing some kind of hearing protection being that close. I saw a fireworks show one time and they were super loud and I was several hundred feet away. The finale was cool and so were the cakes.
wrs28330 wrote:You can see the orange earplugs in some of the pictures where we are lighting.
You are right, it is VERY loud! With the sound, the ash, and the smell it seems like a war zone.
We wear hard hats, safety goggles, earplugs, leather gloves, and the fireman's turnouts.
I know exactly what you're talking about with it seeming like a war zone. We had some neighbors setting of fireworks (the kind illegal in MD, shh...) And from inside the house it sounded like a war was going on, the big mortars and the crackling ones sounded like machine gun fire lol. And at this fireworks show at a baseball stadium they had these sort of flashbang fireworks, they had POWERFUL concussions. I could feel my internal organs shaking whenever one of them went off, and from a couple miles away (there was another show going on) it looked like lightning.
Freaking AWESOME TR William! I've always wanted to see how a firework show was put together; this is a great start, especially a hand lit one, I'd assumed they were all electronic at this point from a show and safety stand point.
RCFreak wrote: I'd assumed they were all electronic at this point from a show and safety stand point.
Most shows are electronic for that reason. Things can still go wrong, so most citys opt for an electric show. The electronic shows also tend to have a high show quality. Some shows are pre-programmed and can be synced to the music (like Disney fireworks shows). Hand-lit shows may soon be a thing of the past.
Moose wrote:Very interesting. Are the racks reused? It doesn't look like they are damaged at all by the fireworks igniting.
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