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Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 17
Lighting the skyThe Santa Maria Fairpark, with help from Pyro Spectaculars, celebrates Independence Day with a dazzling display
BY JOE PAYNE
Every year, Americans celebrate Independence Day with a relaxed afternoon of barbecue, maybe some sports, and togetherness with friends and family. But once the night sky falls, partiers enjoy adding some gunpowder to the mix, celebrating with a flurry of colorful explosions that light the night sky.
Heading up the massive detonations for a local program is San Luis Obispo-area software designer Scott Bailey, who, during the brief fireworks “on season,” exercises his skills as a pyrotechnic operator for Pyro Spectaculars, a company that facilitates a huge number of fireworks shows both on and off the Fourth of July.
“It’s a lot of work, it’s pretty dangerous, but it’s a blast,” Bailey said. “My only regret is that there isn’t enough work to make it year round.”
Though he does take on the occasional high school graduation or sporting event, most of Bailey’s pyrotechnic work is on one calendar day.
“There is a lot that happens before the show: permits have to be issued, and budget concerts dictate the size and type of show,” he said. “Most people think [the fireworks] are rockets, but they aren’t; they are shells that are launched via black powder.”
Some set ups include electronic detonation, Bailey explained, but not the Santa Maria Fairpark’s. He’ll be physically walking up and down the long line of firework mortars on racks, lighting quick fuses with a road flare.
“You’re there lighting the fuse, right there next to it, so it’s extremely close proximity,” he said. “Hard hats, goggles, and ear protection are [non-negotiable], so there is a certain element of danger.”
Falling debris and ash rain down on the technicians as the streaks of light fade away above their heads. Properly protected, the techs can set off the collected mortars in an entertaining combination.
“I try really hard to put on a good show,” he said. “There’s a fine line between a good show and a boring show.
“You have to keep stuff in the air,” he added, “and you don’t just want one big finale, and also, anything beyond 20 minutes people start to yawn.”
The Santa Maria Fire Department is always on hand just in case the large fireworks cause a problem, but such an incident is rare. Bailey has been a pyrotechnic operator for years and is yet to have a serious accident. That’s due in part to the science that goes into the explosives, he explained.
“It’s quite a science,” he said. “We will have some special ones to set off for the finale on the 4th.”
The shells fired out by the mortars contain dense collections of black powder balls called “stars.” These “stars” are arranged in different ways in different shells to create varied effects and patterns come explosion time.
“Typically, they put in ingredients—it’s all mostly black powder, but different metals create different color effects,” Bailey explained. “Copper, for instance, makes green, so they mix finely ground metals in, and it will create different color effects.”
In the case of strong winds, the mortars might get blown off course and pose a potentially hazardous risk. Though wind isn’t usually that strong, especially on July 4, gusts can possibly delay or cancel a show.
“I want it to be an awesome show,” Bailey said, “but if I had to choose between being safe and having a show, I would not do the show. You have to think of it that way.”
Though it’s pretty unlikely that Santa Maria’s winds will move that quickly this early July evening, safety with fireworks is a priority this time of year. Bailey, the Santa Maria Fairpark, and Pyro Spectaculars remind everyone to be safe with their personal fireworks.
“I just hope that everybody has a safe and fun time on the 4th, I’m really looking forward to doing it,” Bailey said. “I will be having a blast on the 4th, and I hope the audience is, too.”
Arts Editor Joe Payne knows fire is not a thing to be played with—too much. Contact him at email@example.com.