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Fireworks on the Fourth…

Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States. In honor of the holiday, I thought I'd share a fireworks memory from my childhood. It's both educational (in terms of what not to do) and somewhat entertaining (in hindsight)...though as to whether it's more educational or entertaining, well, I'll leave that up to you. As this is based on really old memories, some of the details are definitely wrong, but the basic facts are 100% as presented.

I grew up in Colorado, in a small neighborhood known as Heatherwood. Our home was the brown-roofed one just up and to the right from the "A" on this Google map. As you can see, there's a relatively large park just south of our house. This was a great place to hit golf balls, toss the frisbee, and generally goof off...and on the Fourth of July, the area around the park became a great place to set off and watch fireworks.

When I was growing up--I'm not sure if this is still true or not--Colorado had banned all the interesting fireworks. You couldn't buy anything that flew or exploded, basically. So you were left with little sparkler things, various fountains, and smoke bombs--yawn! Wyoming, however, which was but 90 or so miles north, had no such laws--everything was legal there. (Somewhat ironically, I now live in a very similar situation. Oregon allows only the basic stuff, but Washington (only 30 miles north) allows everything.) So one year when I was maybe 10 or so, my dad drove up to Cheyenne and came home with the motherload--a large bag full of bottle rockets, buzz bombs, roman candles (a bunch of them tied together in one massive device), various small firecrackers, and a couple of large cherry bombs. After seeing the bag, that year's Fourth of July holiday couldn't come fast enough.

Finally the day arrived, and after the requisite picnics, we set off for the park. We always took a couple buckets of water, just in case any small fires started (but the park was much greener when I was growing up, and we never had any problems). We found a spot to set up the flying fireworks (firecrackers were lit in the street), and set up our first display of the evening. I don't recall exactly what the thing was called, but its cone-shaped casing promised something along the lines of a "huge shower of colorful sparks!" The cone was maybe 18" tall, so we set it on the ground, lit the fuse, then backed away a good distance. Soon enough, a huge shower of colorful sparks did indeed erupt from the cone.

However, as we watched the cone, we noticed something else: the angle of the shower of sparks was changing.

What started as vertical was slowly becoming less so--it seems the cone was tilting to one side, and looked to be in danger of falling over. Of course, none of us wanted to run in and try to right the thing, so we figured we'd just let it burn out then go douse the area with a bucket.

Great plan, but there was only one the cone continued to tip over, the arc of sparks started tracking directly towards our mondo bag of explosive goodies! The bag, of course, was located a good distance from the cone, but not far enough. It was also far enough from us that none of us could make it to the bag before the shower of sparks reached it. As the sparks reached the bag, we looked at each other and yelled, almost in unison, "run!" Everyone took off running for cover, hiding behind fences, trees, benches, and whatever else we could find.

As the shower of sparks subsided a few seconds later, we thought maybe we got away with it--nothing seemed to be happening to the bag. But then, just about the time we were going to get up and check, we saw a flicker of flame on the edge of the bag, followed almost immediately by the noise of a brick of fireworks exploding. For the next two or three minutes (though it seemed much longer at the time), we were treated to one of the most amazing, though potentially dangerous, fireworks shows I've ever seen. Bottle rockets were going off at all angles and directions. Buzz bombs were taking off and flying every which direction. Massive explosions from the large fireworks. Various other fountains shooting out at all angles. When we weren't busy being scared to death, we were laughing like crazy watching all this stuff go off at the same time.

When peace and quiet finally returned, we ventured over to where the bag of fireworks had sat peacefully, only minutes before. All that was left was a smoldering black spot in the grass, and some burned fireworks wrappers. We poured a bucket of water on the spot, picked up our trash, and headed home--scared, laughing, amazed nobody got hit, and asking dad if we could do this again next year. Needless to say, he did not say "you bet!"

Since that day, I've never left a bag of fireworks anywhere remotely near active fireworks...and I doubt that anyone else who was there that day has either!