Gary Thomas held a piece of paper against the wall of the truck, stabbing at it with a pencil the plan for the night.
“Rack of four, rack of five, rack of four,” he said. “We’ll start with the mellow candles, 3, 3 1/2. Intersperse the salutes, then we get into the bigger shells. I think it’s going to work great.”
“F1, F2, then F19,” he said. “F12, rack of salutes. We’ll need the fuse chains – chain them up if you want – and the cross-match.”
Such is the mysterious lingo of the pyrotechnic crew, who spent hours Tuesday afternoon laying out the plan for tonight’s fireworks to be set off the south jetty at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
They’ll use 2,000 feet of wiring to light candles, cakes and salutes.
It almost looks like child’s play. But one mishap – one misdirected mortar, one bad solder in the electrical hookup – and the results could be disastrous.
They have to take into account the wind direction, limited space on the south jetty, uneven rip-rap, the creation of a path – and the foghorn, right in the middle of it all.
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“It’s loud,” said John Kroger, pyrotechnician with Entertainment Fireworks of Olympia, Wash., which is putting on the show.
“We asked the Coast Guard to turn it off for awhile.”
Numerous municipalities – and many states – have decided to put the kibosh on the kaboom in their Fourth of July festivities this year due to extremely dry conditions.
But not in the Brookings-Harbor area.
This year’s show promises to be spectacular, Thomas said.
Sponsored by the VFW, the event is slated to last from 30 to 45 minutes and feature explosions the likes of which have never been seen before.
“See this?” Kroger said, waving his arm over the scores of racks the team was setting up.
“That’s the finale, the most important part of the show. You can have a mediocre show and a good finale and people will leave the show feeling it was a great show.
“Or you can have a good show and a great finale and people will say it was a fantastic experience. We’ve engineered a fantastic finale.”
Most fireworks companies save about 15 to 20 percent of their materiel for the finale. Entertainment Fireworks has saved 25 to 30 percent of its explosives for the end.
“It will be in waves,” Kroger said. “There will be 50 golden shells, breaking into the sky for about 30 seconds. Then we’ll move into the noise. Then multi-level color.
“Everyone will thank that’s the end of the show,” he continued. “And he’s going to trick them. We’re going to do something subtle, and hit them in the end.”
Not even the VFW, which raised $15,000 to put on the event, knows what to expect.
“We always try to have something new,” Thomas said, declining to say what today’s display will be like.
While it’s not little boys’ play, the team makes it look like fun.
“We want to amp up this show and make it even more exciting in the years to come,” Thomas said. “And we are so grateful for the VFW and (VFW Commander) Rick Bremmer for having us come out again this year.”
The sheer enormity of fireworks displays is largely determined by the amount of land in the area. For every inch in diameter of a shell, a safety area of 100 feet must be cordoned off.
The largest shell Thomas will shoot has a 4-inch diameter, necessitating a safety zone of 400 feet, into the adjoining dirt parking lot and onto the beach.
Thomas and his crew will light 500 shells and 20 multi-shot cakes. Some will be lighted by hand, others electronically and, toward the finale, will be reloaded and lighted again and again.
“This is exciting for us,” Thomas said. “And we’ll be able to kind of interact with the crowd; we can hear them – ‘oooh, ahhh’ – and gauge our timing. From the time the cakes finish until the end, it’ll be a time of insanity.”
“I am a firm believer that the ending should be one of ferocity,” Kroger said, grinning ominously, “not a wind-down.”
Anatomy of a BOOM!
Rack: Also known as a battery, the rack is the wooden base that holds the mortars.