2005 Fireworks Map and Info

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Music, colours, fuses: The basics of fireworks


CHUCK RUSSELL/VANCOUVER SUN FILES Sweden’s inaugural entry in the Celebration of Light competition at English Bay last year proved to be a winner. The team hopes to repeat its win this year with a new display.

WARD PERRIN/VANCOUVER SUN FILES The structure of fireworks hasn’t changed for decades, but the variety has increased.

CRAIG HODGE/VANCOUVER SUN FILES Rachel Kane and Kyra Crouzat, working on a barge in English Bay, connect the wires from the firing system to the ‘bomb’ fireworks.

It all starts with a song.
The elaborate fireworks displays during the Celebration of Light, which kicks off Wednesday, all begin with the selection of a musical score, often months in advance.

The fireworks designers then plan the sequences of sky-high explosions that will make up the 25-minute shows without the benefit of any test runs, says Maude Furtado, pyrotechnic supervisor of Vancouver’s Celebration of Light.

“The designer must know all the different effects — there are thousands,” Furtado said Friday.

“There is no rehearsal for any fireworks show, so a good designer must know his stuff very well,” she said. “It’s actually as much of a surprise for him as for the rest of the public.”

Since the invention of the first firecracker more than 2,000 years ago — when bamboo was roasted to produce a loud bang intended to frighten evil spirits — fireworks have evolved into complex explosives that can cost thousands of dollars apiece.

The basis of a firework — a fuse surrounded by pea-sized balls that spark when ignited — has not changed much over the past few decades. But today’s fireworks are available in an array not likely dreamed of 20 centuries ago, Furtado said.

The varieties number in the “thousands and thousands,” she explained. “There are many different effects, different sizes, different colours,” she said.

In simple terms, the length of the fuse dictates when a firework will explode. The flammable chemicals contained inside the firework’s shell determine the colour and lighting effects.

There are six common colours for fireworks — white, yellow, red, green, blue and purple — with deep blue and purple considered the most difficult to produce.

China is the biggest [manufacturer] in terms of quantities,” Furtado said. “In terms of quality though, there’s a couple of competitors — the Spanish and the Italians are very renowned for quality shells.”

Canada, however, does not manufacture its own fireworks.

“They mainly buy from Spain, they also buy from China,” said Furtado, who has worked with fireworks for 10 years. Many competitive teams, such as China, are actually fireworks manufacturers, Furtado said. “This is how they get the contracts for the next Olympics games or the big international events,” she said. “This is their world window, so they want to look good.” A single show would cost more than $200,000 for the fireworks and infrastructure such as the launching barge, Furtado said.

“It’s a three-day setup for each 25-minute show, with 15 people working 10 hours a day for those three days,” she said.

While fireworks have become more elaborate over the years, they have also become more regulated.

Patrick Nolan, an inspector with Natural Resources Canada, which oversees fireworks safety and regulation in Canada, said that people working with fireworks must take a one-day safety course every year.

There is legislation covering the maximum size of firework shells (30 centimetres) and the distance between the launch pad and the crowd (300 metres for the Vancouver show), Nolan said. Natural Resources Canada also individually inspects every firework that will be used during the Celebration of Light. And while it’s always a good idea to be cautious around fireworks, Nolan says far more injuries and fatalities are caused by commercially available fireworks than by public displays like the Celebration of Light. There has never been a fatality caused by a fireworks shell at a Vancouver show, but five people were killed in 1999 during the Symphony of Fire when a pleasure craft hit a tow rope between a tug boat and a barge

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