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Enjoy Magazine

Sizzle Crackle Pop!

06/25/2014 12:00AM ● By Brandi Barnett
By Claudia Mosby

Freedom Festival at the Civic Auditorium

On a single evening each year, North State residents delight in a spectacular show that, at a cost of almost $4,000 a minute, otherwise would be prohibitive for all but a select few. And it is absolutely free.

Since 1990, The McConnell Foundation has funded the City of Redding’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival fireworks display, with nearly $1.7 million awarded to date.

“Mrs. McConnell was a frugal and private person who loved fireworks,” says Shannon Phillips, vice president of operations at the foundation. “$80,000 up in smoke may not appear to be the best investment, but as she used to say, ‘At least you can see where your money is going.’”

What spectators do not see is the behind-the-scenes planning that goes into ensuring a safe and successful show year after year.

The 21-minute event begins months before the actual display, with meetings to determine a budget and to debrief what did and did not work from the previous year. With such input, Rialto-based Pyro Spectaculars’s Matt Gilfillan plans and choreographs the annual show.

Pyro’s enduring relationships with firework manufacturers worldwide and a database of product inventory that includes details like shell caliber, description, duration, and time from discharge to the firework’s prescribed altitude all help Gilfillan design an artistic one-of-a-kind “sky concert.”

“This year, spectators can look forward to a Sundial Bridge-themed soundtrack in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Bridge, accompanied by one of the largest aerial fireworks displays in the country,” says Gilfillan. “Pyrotechnic products from around the world will be choreographed to the soundtrack.” The musical simulcast will be broadcast on KLXR 1230 AM.

Not all bursts and bangs are created alike. Historically, firework characteristics vary by manufacturer region. Those from Asia, for example, exhibit burst floral patterns while European fireworks are known for whistling, spinning and novelty effects. Knowledge of each firework’s unique capabilities is essential to designing a well-orchestrated show.

In preparation, the pyrotechnic operator arrives with a crew on July 1 to lay out and brace the equipment, prepare the electronic firing system, load the display shells into the mortars, wire each device to the electronic firing system based on the show’s script, test and troubleshoot challenges, and work with the radio station to receive the signal to safely discharge the devices on cue. The crew collaborates with the City of Redding to monitor the firing site before, during and after the performance.

“We are very safety conscious,,” says Michael Bachmeyer, division chief of fire prevention for the city. “Everyone is there to have a good time and celebrate. The last thing we want is to end the evening with a tragedy.”

To this end, Bachmeyer and his team make sure all the wires Pyro Spectaculars has run are carrying the proper signal, all the boxes holding the shell tubes of each firework are constructed to code and that the proper firework “fallout” distances are in place (see Facts box).

Kim Niemer, director of community services for the City of Redding and coordinator of the event, estimates more than 10,000 people attend the show at the Redding Civic Auditorium and twice as many watch from other locations around the city.

“It used to be that people would show up at 10 in the morning and hang out all day,” says Niemer. “There are still those that do, but if the temperature is hot, we like people to come a little later in the day.”

But not too late. “It gets very, very crowded,” says Niemer. “By the time we hit 9:30 pm, it is shoulder to shoulder.”

Freedom Festival
July 4, Redding Civic Auditorium
Food and beverage vendors
open at 5 pm, music begins at 7:30pm,
Fireworks at 10 pm
Free admission

Anatomy of a firework

A lead fuse is lit by manual or electronic means. It travels instantly to the base of the aerial shell, igniting the black powder lift charge. The lift charge explodes, propelling the shell out of the mortar and igniting the time fuse. The time fuse burns slowly into the center of the aerial shell as the shell rises into the sky. Once the lit time fuse reaches the center of the shell (at approximately the same instant the shell reaches the apex of its flight), it ignites the burst charge. The burst charge explodes, rupturing the outer casing of the shell and igniting its contents (the “stars”), dispersing them into the sky. The stars consist of powder mixed with various elements to create different visual or audible effects. For example, barium makes green, copper makes blue, magnesium, aluminum, or titanium make silver, and strontium makes red.    ~ Matt Gilfillan

    Quick Facts

•    Fireworks are contained within a shell  that is contained   
within a support box of a specified dimension of lumber 
thickness to meet safety code requirements.

•    An estimated 1,500 shells were fired at last year’s show.
The Redding show shoots up to an 8-inch diameter shell.
•    Firework “fallout” distance is 70-feet-per-inch of shell.
•    With an 8-inch shell, Redding requires a minimum of 
560 feet of fallout clearance in all directions.

•    Personnel working the event wear helmets and use the    
same type of safety gear that firefighters use.

•    No alcohol, animals, or smoking permitted at the
Civic Auditorium.