North Bend gas station owner George Wyrsch, Sr., always loved the thrill of things that go boom in the night.
An avid Lions Club member, he staffed the charity fireworks stand in town. Every Fourth of July, the elder Wyrsch took his family to Carnation to watch the show.
It’s been more than three decades since the Wyrsch family took over sponsorship duties for what is today’s Festival at Mount Si show, a rare late-summer display that draws onlookers to North Bend on Saturday.
George, Sr., died in 2010. His son, George Jr., and grandson have continued as owners and operators of the local Chevron and Shell stations, and Wyrsch Towing.
“I like fireworks as much as the next guy,” says Bryan Wyrsch, son of George, Jr., who splits the cost of the show, about $15,000, with his dad.
“It’s a neat thing to do for the town. It’s a way we can say thank you for everybody being customers and supporting us.”
North Bend’s show is the second largest one that Eagle Fireworks Co. of Chehalis puts on yearly, and is its longest running display.
Eagle’s legacy goes back decades. It’s the oldest pyrotechnics contractor in Washington. Current owner Steve Thornton bought the company about 20 years ago.
Thornton “takes the most pride in that show,” relates Chris Hoyle, an Eagle employee and pyrotechnic assistant. Coincidentally, it falls right around Thornton’s birthday, so it gets extra love.
Eagle’s team is hopping in the summer. Part of the reason is that, by law, they can’t transport or set up shells until 72 hours before the show. That means North Bend’s show is set up the afternoon and evening of the event.
It’s all action on the launching ground. North Bend’s show is mostly lit by hand with flares. The fuse burns at 55 feet per second, and the pyrotechnicians are usually several feet away, the launch is near simultaneous. They wear helmets with visors for protection, and use flashlights and the light from the flares to see what they’re doing.
Finales are fired off electronically.
A show of North Bend’s size launches about 1,000 shells of all sizes.
Shells launched at community fireworks shows are surprisingly big. An eight-inch shell weighs 20 pounds. A 12-inch shell, some of which are featured in North Bend, is so heavy that it’s lowered into its steel mortar by a rope. The biggest shells make a sphere of fire 600 feet across, which means their charge has to lob them 1,200 feet up.
Most fireworks have names: The ones that shriek and spin are called “fox howls.” A “peony” is a common effect with an explosion that turns into a bulging circle of stars. A “crossette” spits stars that explode into smaller, crisscrossing stars.
Hoyle’s favorite is all noise, the shells called “salutes.”
“They just go up and go boom!” he said. “If they’re good ones, they make the windows rattle.”
Eagle typically fires a shell of its own make for every imported firework. The Chehalis-made bombs stand out. Hoyle credits their decades-perfected recipes.
“It’s unmistakeable. Eagle colors are more brilliant,” says Hoyle. “That really sells the show. People want Eagle fireworks because they are the best.”
For Hoyle, the hardest part is the cleanup—shells leave a small amount of paper waste behind. Multiply that by a thousand shells, and North Bend’s big show makes a big mess, with paper remains from the launch falling downwind—right into the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.
“All those sticker bushes!” says Hoyle. “They get stuck in there like you wouldn’t believe…. There’s no easy way to get it.” But the Eagle crew has to dive in, as the law is very strict about cleanup.
• The Festival at Mount Si fireworks show begins at about 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9, launched from Torguson Park.
• Visit Torguson Park, Si View Park and North Bend Elementary for the best spots to view the show.
For more information, visit www.festivalatmtsi.org.