CEDAR CITY – In the heat of the high desert afternoon sun, 10 firefighters quickly and carefully loaded hundreds of fireworks into the cannons that will shoot them high into the air Saturday night for Cedar City’s annual Independence Day pyrotechnics display.
Along with the men, Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson got her hands dirty setting fireworks into their tubes and helping put the display together.
Typically, assistance from a Cedar City mayor has not been a tradition, but Cedar City Fire Chief Mike Phillips said Wilson’s help was greatly appreciated.
“She’s awesome,” he said. “She just wanted to come out and help and see what it was all about.”
Only four of the Cedar City firefighters at the fireworks launch site were full-time employees, Phillips said; the rest were volunteers.
By the end of the day, many more volunteers would be on scene helping put things together, Cedar City firefighter Lowell Sorensen said.
The preparation that began at 1 p.m. has continued throughout the day and will go on until the display begins at 10 p.m.
The area around the launch site was burned beforehand, in preparation for the night’s event, Sorensen said, in the hopes there would be fewer fires to put out this year.
Each year there are a couple, he said; nothing too bad, but there have been a few close calls when an ignited explosive didn’t make it out of the launch tube it was resting in.
Each year, the Fire Department receives an assortment of brilliant explosives to light up the night sky, Phillips said, and for 22 years he has helped prepare the display.
“I love doing it,” he said, directing some volunteers to specific pieces of pyrotechnics.
Sorensen was busy setting up the 8- and 10-inch displays. Carefully placing each boom into its cannon, Sorensen tied the “squib,” a gunpowder-filled tube that carries the electrical charge to each explosive, to the side of the launch tube, ensuring that as each one took off for the sky, it would not take its neighbor along for the flight.
It took all the firefighters who work for the department countless hours to attach each explosive to a squib so they could connect them to the firing pad that controls which boom happens when.
The launch tubes, which were buried deep into the ground, stayed in place throughout the year, Sorensen said, covered with a large brick to help keep the rain out of them.
Speaking of rain, Sorensen said, the fireworks show takes place rain or shine, year after year, only stopping for heavy winds.
Winds between 10 and 15 mph could end any hopes of a successful Fourth of July fireworks display, Phillips said, but anything short of that won’t stop the show – even at that speed, it is possible to shoot the fireworks into the wind and manage to make it through.
Each and every year for the past 13 years, Sorensen said, he has enjoyed this part of his job. Getting to play with explosives and create something beautiful for the community are equally rewarding facets of helping out, he said.
The preparation for every fireworks display takes weeks, Phillips said – weeks that culminate in only 20 minutes of wild and wonderful explosives lighting up the night sky in celebration of American freedom.
As the firefighters worked to create the upcoming show Saturday, they joked and poked at each other, laughing their way through the afternoon heat that persisted despite a short shower.
The heat of the afternoon wasn’t so bad, Sorensen said; at least they were wearing normal clothes. When they set off the fireworks, he said, they will be in full protective gear – just in case.
So far, Phillips said, they have made it through each of the years he has participated without any major incidents, and it’s all thanks to the fantastic volunteers who work so hard to make it happen.
“It’s just a great group of guys,” Phillips said. “All of them are out here for free, volunteering their time – there’s the full-time guys, there’s four of them – but everyone else is out here volunteering on their own.”
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- Where to see fireworks this Fourth of July in Southern Utah
- Southern Utah Fireworks Guide for 2015; find your city permissions, restrictions here
- TGIF Show; weekend event guide, Fourth of July edition
- Ceremony, community and a few surprises; Fourth of July in Washington County; STGnews Videocasts
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