[See the photo gallery at the foot of the article]
The Chinese have been setting off fireworks for 2,000 years. It’s felt almost as long since Flagler Beach had an honest-to-blast fireworks show, last year’s having been marred by rain, wind and uncertainty until almost the last minute, when the show went off to diminished crowds, and this year’s coming close to oblivion.
This year’s show was cancelled because of the wildfires, then restored because of a public outcry (and serious rains).
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And tonight, at 9 p.m., before a surplus crowd that filled Veterans Park, the beach, the boardwalk, the city’s balconies and any other vantage point with an easterly view, the far end of the Flagler Beach Pier burst in its traditional July 4 cannonade, the skies lit up, and for 17 minutes and $15,000’s worth, Flagler Beach had itself a fireworks show worthy of the Book of Rapture (minus the bloodletting).
“Awesome. just what a 62-year-old man would say about fireworks,” John Aligood said–moments before the fireworks started. Some things can be predicted. (His post-show assessment: “They just seemed closer this year.”)
About half-way through the fireworks, however, a small fire broke out at the end of the pier, where the fireworks were being set off. The fire burned until the end of the show. Shane Wood of the Flagler Beach Fire Department said it was a minor fire–cardboard or a fireworks tube in which fireworks sat as they were fired off–that was extinguished immediately after the show and did not require the intervention of firefighters. The pier itself was unharmed.
Earlier, on the pier, Anthony Santore, president of Fireworks by Santore Inc., the Palm-Coast-based company producing the show, was with his crew, preparing the arsenal, which numbered in the thousands, with bulbs of all sizes (some as small as Vidalia onions, some as large as volleyballs, but alien type volleyballs, with ears and strings and markings) dropped into cannons, each lined with a yellow electrical wire back to a control box, itself linking back to the command center, less than 100 yards away on the pier, where Santore’s techs would set off the works.
“You’ll see pretty much everything that’s available in the fireworks world,” Santore said.
And it would be safe.
“We have plenty of fallout area. We’re not dealing with east winds, so we’ll be OK,” he said. The wind in early afternoon was blowing in a north-northwesterly direction, meaning any embers would have to travel a very, very long distance before even hitting the beach. “The further the distance between the launch site and the spectators, the more creative we can be with effects and the size of products we can use.”
The Flagler Beach Fire Department will be on hand, as it always is when the fireworks are set off. About 45 minutes before the show, Rob Creal, the city’s long-time fire chief and now a volunteer with the fire department, had taken up his post in the bucket on top of a ladder stretched high across A1A, a few blocks south of the pier, where he would remain the rest of the evening. He was primarily keeping an eye on the crowd. The folks below have been known to break out in a fight or two, or more, after a day of partying. He’d also be on the look-out for the unlikely fire. He estimated the crowd as typical for a July 4th show.
Santore has a ringer of his own: John Krol, hi lead technician–he’s been with Santore Fireworks for 30 years–who happens to be a volunteer fireman with Flagler County Fire and Rescue. Krol says he’s wearing his pyro cap today, but he’s available in case of fire-related emergencies.
Those don’t happen often at all, and there’s an elaborate procedure after the fireworks show when a cool-down period is observed, and all sorts of checks are performed, including the dousing off of any bulbs that may have misfired or smouldered (as, presumably, would be the case tonight).
“For Joe Public to be concerned about a fire here, it’s a little unnecessary,” Santore says. The greater risks by far are fireworks set off illegally in woods-rich subdivisions, where there are no stand-by firemen or procedures in place when something may go wrong. Particularly during wildfire season.