July 3, 1996 in Nation/World

You Can Tell It’s War By Rockets’ Red Glare Coeur D’Alene And Spokane Compete For Bigger And Better Pyrotechnics

By The Spokesman-Review

The last time Bill Burke promoted a fireworks show in Spokane, a rocket exploded early and hit a downtown office building, igniting a small fire.

That was 1989. This Fourth of July, Burke is setting his sights higher. On Thursday, he’s raised $15,000 to give residents the biggest - maybe the best - fireworks show ever seen at Riverfront Park.

It should be, as Ed Sullivan would have put it, a really big show - nearly double the punch of last year’s event at the park.

But the downtown show faces competition, as organizers of Coeur d’Alene’s annual July 4 fusillade are preparing to set off the biggest Inland Northwest outdoor fireworks display of recent years.

One show will be big: Spokane’s 27-minute extravaganza will crackle with 2,017 exploding shells.

The other will be bigger: the Lake City Jaycees’ show over Coeur d’Alene City Beach will run 24 minutes and launch more than 2,300 exploding shells.

“Bigger and better, that’s our goal when it comes to fireworks,” said Kelli Goodlander, head of the Lake City Jaycees.

Though nobody in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene says it, the two cities are engaged in a “shell wars” contest.

People in the fireworks industry say “shell wars” happens when neighboring communities compete over who’s got the bigger and better skybursts. Both sides here, for instance, know how many shells - launched missiles that explode into colors - the other city has. Both also know the types and sizes of those shells.

Both sides also upped the ante from 1995. Last year’s show in Spokane had about 1,100 shells, compared with more than 2,000 on Thursday.

The Coeur d’Alene show last year, with a Utah fireworks company, consumed 1,800 shells, about 500 fewer than this year. < The reason for that increase, Burke suggests, is audience expectations.

“When people heard I was doing fireworks this year, they said, ‘Try and top last year, if you can,”’ Burke said. “So you have to go and do better.”

For the Riverfront Park pyrotechnics, Burke hired Western Display Fireworks of Portland, a company that does numerous shows on the West Coast.

Its show is part of Burke’s four-day Spokane American Music Festival. Music and other free events will continue through Sunday in the park.

Rich Vaughan was the man who created last year’s Spokane show. Outbid this year by Western, Vaughan has a mild form of payback on his mind. This year, he’s running the show in Coeur d’Alene.

He’s sure Western will do a good job in the park. “They’ll try to make a good impression their first time in Spokane,” he said.

But Vaughan added: “The Coeur d’Alene fireworks will definitely be bigger, certainly the biggest around here.”

“We’re able to use 12-inch shells” while Western can use nothing larger than 4-inch shells in Riverfront Park.

That size limit is set by fire codes. The close distance between spectators, buildings and fireworks launchers at Riverfront Park means nothing larger than 4-inch shells can be used.

Vaughan’s show will be launched from a floating barge more than 1,200 feet off City Beach.

When it comes to crowd-pleasing fireworks, bigger is better, said Vaughan.

“The larger the shell, the higher it goes,” he said. “Plus, you get more concentrate (explosive) in the shell, creating bigger bursts of color.”

Vaughan was in charge of the 1989 Riverfront Park show that was marred by the misfired shell - the last time shells larger than 4 inches were used there.

“It was due to other defective shells firing ahead of that one; it set off a chain reaction,” Vaughan said.

Some folks may not notice it, but pros like Vaughan are doing more than just setting off heavy-duty rockets and bombs.

The true pyrotechnician is looking to create a show with a snazzy start, a surprising middle, followed by a dazzling finale.

The Spokane show, for instance, will launch more than 30 shells in the first 20 seconds, then build to a sequence called “Poison Spider,” a 35-second flurry of more than 50 explosives.

Instead of exploding with a burst, those shells will flare into glowing white tails that rise upward, spiraling together into a spider-like pattern in the sky.

At the Spokane show’s glittery conclusion, there’ll be enough rockets’ red glare to read a book.

“Oh yeah, the finale is big,” said Judi Gobet, co-owner of Western Display with her husband, Bob Gobet.

“Lots and lots of red, white and blue. This is the Fourth, of course.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Dueling fireworks

MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: You can tell it’s a war by the rockets’ red glare

For list of public fireworks displays, see headline: The rockets red glare and other attractions

IDAHO HEADLINE: You can tell it’s a war by the rockets’ red glare

For list of public fireworks displays, see headline: The rockets red glare and other attractions

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