The dazzling sparks and shapes and thundering sounds of Fourth of July fireworks captivate the young and provide blasts of nostalgia for the not-so-young.
But few are aware of the procedures and labor behind the big booms.
Producing a fireworks show today requires strict adherence to state and federal laws, which mandate a year-round planning effort, says Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corporation, which coordinates the main Fourth of July fireworks display for Lexington.
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"People don't realize we begin planning for the next event a week after it's over," Jackson says.
Jackson began work on this year's show last summer by sending an application to the government for approval.
The state guidelines necessitate a minimum insurance of a million dollars to host a fireworks display, as well as confirmation that a trained pyrotechnician with a federal explosives license or permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will supervise the show.
After her application was approved, Jackson coordinated with the Lexington fire and police departments, and with the R.J. Corman Railroad Group, because the pyrotechnicians shoot the shells on their railway property.
Pyrotechnician Charles Cox of Zambelli Fireworks will help at the rail yard to set up the Lexington Fourth of July display, which will consist of 1,280 continuously fired shells for about 18 to 20 minutes.
Zambelli Fireworks submitted its own an application, which detailed the size of the shells to be fired and the distance of the fireworks' explosion from the audience, to the Lexington fire department.
Keeping a safe distance
The shell must explode 70 feet away per inch of the shell to comply with state guidelines, so a three-inch shell must explode at least 210 feet away, says Lexington Fire Marshal Michael Farmer.
The Lexington show will feature three- and four-inch shells, which will explode 300 to 400 feet in the air, or roughly the size of a football field, says Cox.
Cox will set up all the hardware for the fireworks Friday and load the shells Saturday.
The lead shooter will use an electrical box positioned a safe distance from the shooting site and manually set off the shells, which allows for more control and the ability to stop or speed up, says Cox.
Larger fireworks shows, such as Louisville's Derby kick-off display, Thunder Over Louisville, use an electronic timer to set off the fireworks, and it takes about three weeks to set up, says Cox.
Even more complex are shows timed to music, which require specially designed software to automate the process of timing the fireworks to the beats in the songs, he says.
These shows prove a big expense, so the Lexington show will not feature that element, says Jackson.
The Lexington fire department will send out an inspector the day of the show to check for safety, such as a secure perimeter for the event and stable shooters that fire upright.
A light rain will not delay the show, because the pyrotechnicians can cover up the firing tubes with plastic, which protects the hardware inside and allows the firework to shoot directly through, says Cox.
The weather has provided challenges in the past, such as extremely dry temperatures and winds over 15 mph, says Farmer.
However, the weather forecast looks bright for this year's display, he says.
After the show, the clean-up crew will dispose of scraps, although the fallout will be minimum because the fireworks break up mostly in the air and only small scraps of paper remain, says Cox.
Around the region
For an early taste of Fourth of July fireworks Winchester's Freedom Fest will provide a display on Friday at Lykins Park on Mt. Sterling Road.
The show will feature more than a thousand shells shot as a continuous stream for 15 to 20 minutes by the licensed Freedom Fest shooters.
The Scott County fireworks display will take place in Brooking Park in Georgetown on Saturday.
About a thousand shells will be shot from two locations manually from an electronic device, says Jeff Biedenharn, the pyrotechnician from Rozzi's Famous Fireworks who will work the show.
The Lexington show will take place on the Fourth over downtown and can be viewed from far distances, says Jackson.
The applause and exclamations of spectators inspire Cox.
He says the pyrotechnicians will put on a show geared toward the crowd with a variety of dazzling colors and shapes ending in a crescendo of vibrant thundering light.