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Fireworks show takes ‘planning’

Three things are required for a good fireworks show, according to Peter Palmer, pyrotechnician with Canfire Pyrotechnics Ltd., the company providing tonight’s display at the Stutsman County Fairgrounds.

“It takes planning, equipment and choreography,” he said. “But we’d prefer to be unsung heroes and stay out of sight.”

Canfire is located in Sundown, Manitoba, Canada, which adds to the need for planning. It has provided the show in Jamestown for four years.

“All the equipment is there in Jamestown,” Palmer said. “We put it there years ago. It avoids the Custom’s (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) paperwork of having to bring it across the border.”

The fireworks are also shipped directly to Jamestown by suppliers, leaving Palmer and his crew the task of assembling the equipment and loading the fireworks the day of the show.

The equipment is made up of literally hundreds of mortar tubes. These are tubes or pipes with one closed end and the open end pointed straight up. The mortars are laid out over a space of about 50 feet by 100 feet, Palmer said. Each shot you see during the display is shot from a single tube. Those tubes range in size from 3 inches to 6 inches in diameter and fire the shell to heights of up to 500 feet.

Shows that use larger tubes that fire shells higher than 500 feet are required to notify local airports and the Federal Aviation Administration, Palmer said.

Most of the mortar tubes are connected to an electronic control board that fires the shot on command. This allows more precise control of the timing, he said.

Workers all wear safety glasses, helmets, hearing protection and long-sleeved cotton shirts to prevent burns from stray sparks. The technicians not only prepare and load the fireworks, but take care of cleaning up the site after the show and deal with any fireworks that did not detonate.

Plans for the 2014 fireworks display began late in 2013 with negotiations between Canfire and Jamestown Tourism. The contract pays Canfire $9,000 to provide the show, which is one of the last shows of the season.

“Early July is tremendously busy for us with Canada Day on July 1 and the Fourth of July in America,” Palmer said. “It keeps us running.”

This year’s fireworks follow a slightly different schedule than previous years, according to Tim Baldwin, promoter for Jamestown Speedway.

“The Saturday races start at 4 p.m. and should be done about 7 p.m.,” he said. “That gives people a couple hours to enjoy the fair before the fireworks display at 10:30.”

The grandstands at the Speedway will be open without an admission charge at 10:30 p.m. for those who want to watch the fireworks from that area.

“We’re happy to be a part of the fireworks,” Baldwin said. “It is a tradition that goes back as far as I can remember.”

For Palmer, it is the excitement he has been part of ever since he was a child.

“I started when I was 6 years old with some firecrackers,” he said. “By the time I was 12, I was putting on shows for everyone in the neighborhood. This year we’ll have a thunderous ending and we’ll shake the grandstands.”

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at