Under the Blazing SkyUnder the Blazing Sky

Watch a slideshow: Fireworks - Set-up | Fireworks - From the Crowd | Fireworks - Underneath
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Set-upThe anticipation always seems to be the hardest part. Ten minutes. That doesn’t seem to be that long…unless you’re waiting to ignite over 1,500 pounds of explosives within a twenty-five-minute time frame. The fourteen of us stood around, our nervousness manifesting itself in different ways, some of us pacing, others making jokes. The past thirty hours or so had been spent doing all the setup that goes along with a professional fireworks production.

Ten Inch Shell

But now, with all the three and four-inch mortar racks tied together and loaded, the holes dug for the five and six-inch mortars along with the monster ten and twelve-inch mortars and the fountain effects ready, all we could do is wait.

"Five minutes," yelled Bill, the show’s director.

I looked around at the people I was shooting with and felt confident. While I had not shot with everyone there, I felt good about all of their abilities to get the job done safely. My life was in the hands of these thirteen other people and I felt secure with them.

With thirty or so shows behind me, the feeling of adrenaline starting to rush through my veins was familiar, almost comforting. This, despite the fact that this was the most (220 three-inch shells) that I had ever lit in one show.

"Two minutes! Places everyone," shouted Bill.

All pacing and joking stopped, game faces in place. I got in front of the three-inch racks and watched everyone taking their places. I turned my cap backwards, as did several other crew members, to cover any exposed hair on my neck. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and counted to ten, focusing. This was it.

"Thirty seconds! Shooters, light your fusies and be safe."

I heard a chorus of people around me shouting, "Be safe!" and added my own voice to the rest.

I lit my overgrown road flare, raised it in the air and looked around me one last time. Six glowing red spots in the darkness. I could hear the crowd, 800 feet away, start to cheer. We were ready. I watched as the fountains were lit and when the first six-inch shell went off, I went to work, lighting a shell every five seconds. A shell coming out of the mortar

It is very difficult to describe what it is like once a show starts. I have heard other shooters compare it to a battle simulation in the army. A shooter that I once shot with, who was a veteran, told me that the atmosphere is very close to being on an actual battlefield.

I wandered up the eighty foot line of three-inch mortars, lighting a fuse every six feet or so. I kept an eye on my loader, to make sure that we kept track of each other as he walked by me with live shells in his hands.

SmokeEvery time that I shoot another show, I think I’m ready for what is coming and, as usual, I wasn’t. The concussion that the shells create as they explode from the mortars was strong enough to actually knock me back a bit. The sound of the shells in front of me and the five and sixes going off behind me was loud enough to drown out even my own thoughts. Smoke and ash immediately began to fill the air and the heat was more intense than the sun had been the previous two days of setting up.

I kept shooting, waiting for the signal from Bill that we were at the halfway point. When it came, I was already exhausted. Sweat poured from my body and my legs felt weak. As Brad lit the 300 shot box, I took a quick inventory of the shells I had left and realized that I had only shot about a third of them. I yelled, at the top of my lungs, to Bill that I was going to start shooting again, which had not been the plan. He nodded and I once again began lighting fuses. As it turned out, all the shooters had been running a little slow so they had begun shooting again as well.

Time is a very strange thing when you are in a situation like this one. The next fifteen minutes seemed to last both hours and seconds. I just concentrated on lighting fuses. I heard other shooters yelling that they were almost out of shells and recognized that I was still behind. I Fireworksstarted lighting fuses two at a time but still had twenty or so left when Ryan, shooting fours directly across from me, ran out of shells. I yelled for him to help me finish the threes and saw that Bill had come over to help too. I again started lighting fuses as fast as I could, lighting three at a time when it was possible. At one point, Bill, Ryan and I all lit three fuses each, at the same time. We stood back, side by side, and watched them leave their mortars almost simultaneously. For the first time in the show, I looked up. The affect of those nine shells going off at once was truly impressive. I threw both fists in the air and screamed, a wide grin on my face.

My next task was to light the ten inch, which would precede the show ending twelve-inch shell. For the first time in the show, I had a few moments to do nothing. I kneeled on the ground next to the fuse for the ten and tried to catch my breath. The flag had started to die down while the waterfall effect blazed on. In my mind, I could see the crowd starting to turn towards the exits thinking this was the end. Boy were they in for a surprise!

TwelveBill waited until the very last second and then yelled for the finale rack. The shooter there lit it and I was once again impressed as 120 shells were blown, one after another, from the finale racks in eight seconds flat. I waited until I heard them start exploding above us and hit the ten. I watched as it went high into the air and exploded. I then heard Bill hitting the twelve-inch, twenty feet to my left. I watched it rise into the air. Higher and higher it went. It seemed to keep going forever, but just when I couldn’t see its trail anymore, it went off. It filled the sky from horizon to horizon. It was beautiful.

What I heard next was also beautiful; the sound of a roaring crowd. The whole crew was jumping around in celebration. Ryan stood next to me, his hand in the air, waiting for a high five. I gave it to him, laughing uncontrollably.

Then, above the sounds of the rest of the crowd, I heard my son, who had been seated at the very front, yell "Way to go, Dad!!!" And I knew we had done it. We had put on our best show yet!