News Column

Annapolis still planning for fireworks on the 4th

July 3, 2014

By Tim Prudente, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

July 03--Twitter Glitter, Bright Flowers, Lemon Peony, Blue Thunder: fireworks, more than 1,000 shells, shooting three times higher than the State House dome, bursting in a shower of sparks that fall like midnight snow.

"You don't put anything over this you don't want to lose," said Cole Kratzer, placing his hand atop an empty, 6-inch mortar of reinforced fiberglass.

Mortars were placed Thursday on a 35-foot barge docked in the Severn River, even as city officials discussed whether the Annapolis fireworks show would escape approaching Hurricane Arthur.

"We think we are going to have it," said Kevin Simmons, director of the Annapolis Office of Emergency Preparedness and Risk Management. "We're looking at some rain ... (Friday) morning, but clearing out in time for the fireworks -- we hope."

Some 1,500 pounds of fireworks will be placed on the barge. It will be towed into the river Friday afternoon and anchored at least 100 yards off the Naval Academy seawall.

Last year, the barge was bumped by a distracted yacht captain. Surrounding waters will be closed to boaters as showtime approaches at 9:15 p.m.

The bowling ball-shaped shells come packed with chemicals for color and a sort of gunpowder. The biggest -- 8 inchers -- rise about 800 feet as a time-delay fuse slowly burns. They burst with a shower wider than the length of a football field, earning names like Half Moon, Brocade Crown and Red, White and Blue Strobe.

The order is random, a shell firing about every second, Kratzer said. He works as a diesel mechanic in Pennsylvania, until July Fourth approaches. Then he works for national fireworks company, Pyrotecnico. It runs the show with a crew from its office in Gettysburg.

Such work is technical and precise. The crew must be licensed. These fireworks can't be bought in stores. Preparations are done under the watch of a Naval Academy explosive-safety officer.

The crew fires shells from a nearby towboat. Wires run from the mortars to a box of switches. Flick a switch and the lift charge sends a shell skyward.

The annual show costs about $30,000, the money raised by the nonprofit committee July Fourth Annapolis.

"It ain't cheap," said Tom Chepurko, committee chairman. "We get everything from corporate donations to individuals, as little as $25 and as much as $500."

This year, he said, organizers are still accepting donations for the show.

"Whenever you do something like this on the water, it's 10 times more difficult and 10 times more costly," he said.

"It's also 10 times more spectacle."


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Source: Capital (Annapolis, MD)

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