The Covington News - - Front page - In­for­ma­tion com­piled by Gabriel Khouli By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­ Graphic de­sign by Lee Sandow

Mor­tars fire around him and shells ex­plode in bursts of light and noise. Us­ing a flare, the tech­ni­cian reaches down to light the next shell in line and then quickly turns his head away as the ig­ni­tion wire burns to a fuse at the bot­tom of the mor­tar.

The spher­i­cal shell shoots 200 feet into the air as a sec­ond time de­lay fuse burns down. The powder in­side ig­nites and the shell ex­plodes apart.

Dozens of alu­minum powder pel­lets, called stars, shoot out in long sil­ver streaks form­ing a sphere, fol­lowed quickly by a sec­ond set of stron­tium car­bon­ate stars which pro­duce a bright red in­ner ring.

Just as quickly as the sky is lit ablaze it re­turns briefly to black, await­ing the crowd’s next gasp.

Shine, daz­zle, boom

Fire­works are big busi­ness in the U.S., yet most pro­fes­sional shows are still fired by hand us­ing flares, said Py­rotec­nico Sales Man­ager John Feigert.

Py­rotec­nico is han­dling Cov­ing­ton’s fire­works show along with 800 oth­ers in the north­east and south­east U.S. alone, and only the largest cel­e­bra­tions will be han­dled by an in­tri­cate, syn­chro­nized com­puter pro­gram.

The world of fire­works is a true mix­ture of art and science. Each com­pany has its own pro­pri­etary chem­i­cal mix­tures to pro­duce unique col­ors, pat­terns and spe­cial ef- fects.

A fire­work can have bursts, or breaks as they're called in the in­dus­try, with a sin­gle color, mul­ti­ple col­ors, col­ors that change and sparkling ef­fects.

“The amount of dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions that can be made, it starts to mea­sure in the hun­dreds with just those ba­sics,” Feigart said, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of a sparkling sil­ver burst with a sec­ondary burst of red that shifts to blue.

“Take the chem­i­cal uni­verse, that’s what man­u­fac­tures are work­ing with, from zinc to ti­ta­nium to chlo­rine.”

Once a com­pany has its color mix­ture and ef­fects down, it can choose from dozens of pat­terns. The most stan­dard break in the in­dus­try is the chrysan­the­mum or peony. The ma­jor­ity of flower or tree-shaped bursts, in­clud­ing dahlias and wil­low and palm trees, are the re­sult of round ball­shaped shells.

Pat­terned shells are be­com­ing more pop­u­lar and form rec­og­niz­able shapes, such as a bow tie, five-pointed star, happy face or peace sign.

Fire­works shows are also de­signed to be an au­di­tory ex­pe­ri­ence, and de­sign­ers of­ten add shells specif­i­cally de­signed to buzz, crackle and whis­tle. One such prom­i­nent shell that will be in­cluded in Cov­ing­ton’s show is the ti­ta­nium salute, which not only pro­duces a loud “can­non shot” sound, but also pro­vides a bright sil­ver burst to fur­ther light up the sky. Fi­nales com­bine the whole bag of tricks to cre­ate the full ex­pe­ri­ence.

De­sign­ers take their en­tire stock, and then plot a fir­ing pat­tern, mix­ing and match­ing to cre­ate an open­ing, a main body with mini fi­nales thrown in and then, of course, the grand fi­nale that leaves crowds want­ing more.

In­sider info

Shell sizes are mea­sured by their di­am­e­ter, and the largest shows fre­quently in­cluded foot long shells, but those have been re­clas­si­fied as “high ex­plo­sives,” hik­ing up ship­ping costs and com­plex­ity, mak­ing them vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to use, Feigert said.

Even 10-inch shells are rare be­cause some in­ter­na­tional freight com­pa­nies are re­fus­ing to ship them from China, mak­ing 8-inch shells the largest you’ll see in most do­mes­tic shows. Feigert said the fire­works in­dus­try doesn’t con­sider the lack of larger shells a great loss, be­cause they would fly so high, up to 2,250 feet, that the burst was di­min­ished de­spite be­ing larger.

Other trends in fire­works in­clude in­creased com­put­er­i­za­tion, as well as the ad­vent of cakes or bar­rage boxes. These large group­ings of shells are de­signed to be fire si­mul­ta­ne­ously and ex­plode fairly low in the viewer’s sight­line.

Be­cause Cov­ing­ton’s show will be fired from the park­ing lot be­hind the ju­di­cial cen­ter, and the main crowd will gather on the square, a bar­rage box won’t be used. Cov­ing­ton’s show will be a mix­ture of 4-inch and 5-inch shells in a va­ri­ety of pat­terns, col­ors and ef­fects that should beau­ti­fully frame the His­toric Court­house.

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