Josh Riel of Innovative Pyrotechnic Concepts loves everything about fireworks. He said that his favorite moment of any show is the cheer that greets him after each finale. The cheer was there again this year, though more muted than usual. The crowds at this year’s Fourth of July celebration were smaller and more spread out, as people adhered to the governor’s restrictions on gatherings, in place because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Riel, a seven-year veteran of fireworks shows, discussed the various trends in his industry. He explained that most shows feature a lot of “crackle” fireworks; as the fireworks break, there is a loud crackling sound, like the sound a log fire makes – only much louder.
Riel said he thinks the crackle is overdone. “We don’t use a lot of them. We use higher-quality fireworks that break nice and round. They are more symmetrical and pleasing.”
He spoke of horsetails and willows, which are “quieter on break. They kind of flow gently instead of with a loud boom.”
But, he said, there would be plenty of boom, “especially in the finale. It will end with a bang.”
Two shows instead of one
Instead of the Warrenton Town Limits celebration that has drawn thousands to the fields behind the WARF the last few years, the Town of Warrenton arranged for two separate but coordinated fireworks shows to be launched Saturday night, July 4th. One show was launched from a hill behind the WARF and the other from a field near Home Depot. Residents from Warrenton and elsewhere gathered to watch the show from the beds of pickup trucks and from lawn chairs in nearby parking lots and along roadways.
The Warrenton fire marshal was on hand and there was representation from the Warrenton Fire Department, “to make sure we don’t burn the place down,” said Riel with a smile. He said that sometimes a spark will set off a small fire, but it can be extinguished quickly without disrupting the show.
At the top of the hill behind the WARF, hundreds of yellow tubes stood up straight, each with a wire attached connecting it to a yellow box that was synced to a computer further down the hill. The tubes ranged from three inches around to five. For each inch in diameter, the explosive would climb another hundred feet. And for each 100 feet the firework could rise, 100 feet of clearance was required.
Event organizer and Town Councilman Sean Polster assured, “We’ve left 700 feet of clearance, just to be safe.”
Riel pointed to a set of tubes that was separate from the rest and covered with fireproofing. “Those are for the finale,” he said. “We keep them covered so a spark from one of the others doesn’t set anything off early.”
Riel said his crew works all day to set up the 890 charges that light up the night. No one was complaining, though. They were happy to have the work. Riel said that usually this time of year they are busy night and day for several weeks, driving from show to show. This year, though, most events have been canceled.
Because the fireworks company was working two locations instead of one, the two teams coordinated by walkie-talkie. By 8:15 p.m., the charges were placed in tubes, the fire marshal had finished his inspection and the computer that would control the show was set. “Now, we just wait for dark,” said Riel.