Rockets red glare

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer July 05, 2013 10:48 am

Van Brown lays out pallets of mortar tubes for the Fourth of July fireworks show at Community Stadium in La Grande on Thursday. Brown and three other men hand-lit fuses for much of the show wearing fire suits, helmets and earplugs. (Kelly Ducote/The Observer)
Van Brown lays out pallets of mortar tubes for the Fourth of July fireworks show at Community Stadium in La Grande on Thursday. Brown and three other men hand-lit fuses for much of the show wearing fire suits, helmets and earplugs. (Kelly Ducote/The Observer)
 

In a 15-minute show, exploding fireworks can woo a crowd. Behind the colorful sparkles, though, are adrenaline seekers lighting fuses from within heavy fire suits and helmets.

Pyrotechnician Sean Blevins and three helpers spent more than 10 hours working to bring Union County’s annual fireworks show to life Thursday.

“It’s a lot of work for a little bit of fun,” Blevins said as the team arranged mallets of mortar tubes behind Community Stadium.

The fireworks were delivered around 11 a.m. The four men spent the rest of the day arranging and preparing for the big show.

“We’ve got a picture of where we’re supposed to put everything,” Van Brown said.

Using a diagram created at Western Display Fireworks, the team laid out the mortar tubes. Then, they packed in the tubes with dirt.

“We’ve got to get everything stabilized,” Blevins said. The team dropped mortars into the appropriate tubes once they were in place. “We try to spread the colors out.”

Fuses had to be prepared and big, packaged elements of the show — especially the grand finale — were covered in foil to prevent any explosions before showtime.

The procedure is standard for most of the men who have years of show experience. Only Jesse Wells was new to fireworks shows, and he was excited.

“He’s like all of us the first time we did it,” Brown said.

Some of that excitement returns for each show. Once vehicles are moved from a setup area, it’s a waiting game for the crew.

“The last two hours waiting for it to get dark are the longest two hours,” Brown said.

And once the show starts, the fun is over in a flash, even when the men are hand-lighting fuses.

“We’ve got a system,” said Nate Needham, who was excited to light the 5-inch mortars, the biggest ones of the bunch.

“When they bark, they’re barking,” Brown said of the 5-inchers. “They’ll take your helmet off.”

The reason the fireworks crew is equipped with fire suits, helmets and ear plugs was obvious as smoke billowed into the air and the rumbles reverberated in the valley.

If the “ooh”s and “ahh”s from the stadium crowd were any measure, the firework crew’s long, loud and warm day paid off.

“It was amazing,” said 16-year-old Aly Bieker, who was there to see the show with her brother, sister and dad.

Dave Bieker, her father,  said the family lives in Nyssa but was in town visiting his parents.

“My kids wanted to see the show,” he said. “It was well worth it.”

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.