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Date of Issue: July 05, 2007

Bell's crew provides July 4 blast

Daniel Hammett likes to get as close as he can to the staging zone for July 4 fireworks displays.

“I like the noise,” the Island vacationer said.

Beth Paulson of Holmes Beach likes to put some distance between herself and the big bang.

“They’re emotional, beautiful,” she said. “But I don’t want to be frightened by the boom.”

Fireworks burst across the sky every Fourth of July in communities across the country.

Some are massive shows - Boston’s Independence Day celebration involves four tons of explosives and a concert by the Boston Pops.

Some are more intimate displays, such as the Gulfcoast show that was set to take place Tuesday, July 3, at the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach and the beach display planned for Wednesday, July 4, at the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria.

Fireworks shows, whether they cost millions and last for an hour or cost thousands and last for seven minutes, bombard the senses - the scent and taste of the smoke, the sense of vibration underfoot, the sound of the blast and the sight of colorful blooms.

“Technically, the boom comes first,” said Joseph Castonguay, of Bell’s Fireworks Display Company, the Tampa-based company responsible for the Sandbar and BeachHouse shows. “The larger the shells get, however, it appears that the bloom comes first. This is due to how high the shells are and the fact that light travels faster than sound.”

The “boom” in a firework, Castonguay said, is “actually the breaking of the shell, also known as a burst charge.”

There are shells designed solely to make noise, which are called “salutes.” “These actually break the sound barrier when they explode,” Castonguay said.

All fireworks use black powder for a lift charge that propels the shells into the air. Individual shells get loaded into mortars to be launched. Professionals also use pre-loaded devices - “multi-shot aerial repeaters” - that have fuses and contain from 25 to 600 rounds.

The Sandbar show will feature both types - individual shells and repeaters - lasting about seven minutes and containing about 1,500 to 1,600 rounds of fireworks.

“We design all our own shows,” said Castonguay. “We have a highly experienced staff that handles show designing.”

While July 4 revelers parade from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach to Bayfront Park in Anna Maria and then gather for an after-parade party, specialists with Bell’s will be preparing for nightfall.

“On-site, the Sandbar show takes about six hours of setup time during the day and about another hour before shoot time,” said Castonguay, adding that two days of off-site preparation work also takes place.

Castonguay said the prep work at the BeachHouse July 3 also involved a full day of site work. The Bradenton Beach show also “has more logistics that must be worked out due to the fact that part of the show is shot off a barge and part on land,” Castonguay said.

But actual preparations for the July 4 fireworks extravaganza begin well before July. Once contracts are signed, permit applications must be filed, including requests with the U.S. Coast Guard for the beach displays that illicit so many “oohs” and “aahs.”


Drought doubles concern for fireworks use

Severe drought conditions in the state have local public safety officials issuing severe cautions against illegal fireworks use on July 4.

In Manatee County, the general rule for fireworks is that if they go up in the air or issue a bang, they are illegal, unless government-permitted for professional displays.

In advance of Independence Day, the Manatee County Department of Public Safety urged caution on the holiday.

Due to extremely dry conditions, the county is at high risk for brush fires, warned Larry Leinhauser, public information officer for the department.

“Citizens and visitors who choose to use fireworks should pay close attention to where they use them and be prepared to have water or some type of fire resistant capability,” Leinhauser stated.

In some areas, officials considered canceling fireworks displays for the holiday due to the drought, a factor in the wildfires that have raged in north Florida and Georgia.

Encouraging the state to ban personal fireworks was also discussed, though no communities, as of TheIslander press time, had taken such action. The last time a governor banned the use of personal fireworks was in July 1998.