Tips For Lighting A Consumer Fireworks Display
Ever wonder how trained professionals use consumer fireworks to put on a display? We usually use electric matches and electronic firing systems to get the best control over the timing. However, there are times when the budget isn’t there for using our fancy equipment. So, we have learned some tricks for setup and pacing that can help keep the sky filled. Here is what we do:
First, we label all of the fireworks on the top and/or on the side near the fuse. We label in the numeric order that we want to shoot them. We use light colored masking tape and black marker to number them. This helps with visibility when lighting them in the dark. We remove all the fuse covering and expose the fuse in the daylight so we know where we will need to light them in the dark.
When we set up a show, we note where the audience will be and the expected direction of the wind at show time. It is best to have the wind blowing away from the audience, both for safety and for best viewing, as the fireworks won’t be obscured by smoke. It is desirable to have the audience at least 125 feet away and more if possible.
We will orient the firing order such that we are lighting the downwind devices first, and moving upwind as we perform the show. This minimizes the risk of falling embers prematurely igniting a device.
We place them in the launch area in two rows about 10 to 20 feet apart. Each firework in the row is about 5 foot away from the next. (See the diagram on the right.) We may need to adjust spacing for the site limitations.
The numbers are arranged in an offset zig zag pattern. We make sure each firework is on a level surface and stabilized if necessary so it wont tip over.
Where a level concrete surface is unavailable we often use pieces of plywood or sand to level uneven ground. (There are multiple stabilization methods such as placing the firework in a big plastic tub partially filled with sand, or placing bricks around the base to prevent tipping.)
Also in the daylight, the fireworks are checked to make sure they are facing correctly for audience display. (This is most important if we have fan shaped fireworks.) If possible, we try to line up the fuses so they are all facing the outside of the two rows in the back outside corner. See diagram. This can also help keep us on track in the dark.
Prior to starting the show, we don protective gear: Safety glasses, cotton or other non-flammable clothing, hard hat, and hearing protection. It is very helpful to have a head mounted flashlight to aid seeing the numbers and the fuse (we often wear this light around our neck). We ensure we have clear walkways between devices, and have water fire extinguishers and/or a charged garden hose of sufficient length on standby. Buckets of water can also be used.
To light, we prefer to use an instant on (push button) propane torch. For best ignition, hold the flame of the torch perpendicular to the fuse, and touch the side of the flame to the tip of the fuse. Kind of like the letter T, where the vertical part is the fuse, and the horizontal part is the flame of the torch. (This prevents lighting the paper on fire with the tip of the flame.)
Each fuse should burn between 6 and 9 seconds before the first tube in the device fires. After lighting the fuse, we safely walk to the next device and wait near the fuse (see diagram). This allows us to observe the pace of the currently firing device and to light the next one when the device is nearly complete.
If you know what the shot count is on the device that is firing, you can count shots, keeping in mind that many devices have a 3 to 5 shot quickened ‘finale’. Basically, when there is a short time left to fire on the first device, we light the second fuse and move ourselves to the third and so on. Always walking away from the lit firework.
As we near the end of the show, we will shorten the time between lighting, rather than waiting for the device to be nearly done, and we’ll often fire two devices at once, in order to have a faster finale.