Carnation Fourth | Watch the fireworks Wednesday night at Tolt-MacDonald Park

  - Courtesy photo
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Carnation’s fireworks finale this coming Wednesday night may not be the most elaborate display celebrating Independence Day, but it’s one of the coolest.

“You guys have a phenomenal site, and you’re able to utilize the wide variety of products, which are often the newer items,” said Heather Gobet of Western Display Fireworks, which produces Carnation’s fireworks show every year.

Because the city’s annual spectacle is set off in Tolt-MacDonald Park, with plenty of space to keep both audiences and obstacles at a safe distance, the pyrotechnicians in charge can create a display that dazzles, even at the relatively low price of $6,000.

“They are phenomenal to work with,” says Carnation 4th chairperson Kim Lisk.

Western, a family business since 1948 when Oregon herb farmers trading in cash-strapped China first accepted fireworks as payment, has put on Carnation’s fireworks show for years. The process for putting on the 300-plus shows they’ll do on July 4 actually starts the previous August, Gobet said, when Western orders next year’s products. Things pick up speed through the writing and design of each show, meetings with sponsors, and the development of proposals. Carnation received its proposal back in January.

The final few months are taken up with finalizing permits, ordering insurance certificates — all of Western’s shows are covered by a million-dollar policy — and identifying the equipment needed for each production. For Carnation’s 20-minute show, the equipment is mainly the dozens of high-density polyethylene mortars needed to launch the fireworks shells.

“Every burst that you see in the sky, we have to have a mortar for that,” she said.

A crew of about five pyrotechnicians, wearing firefighter turnout gear and motorcycle helmets, are needed to do Carnation’s show. They typically use road flares to set off fireworks, although a larger event might call for computerized ignition.  The pyrotechnicians are all trained and licensed, Gobet said, and they come from all walks of life. “We have doctors, we have lawyers,” said Gobet, listing some of the many professions that their part-time crews actually make their livings in. Gobet, also a licensed pyrotechnician, explained that few fireworks experts can actually sustain themselves on that line of work alone. For many of them, the Fourth of July is their day to indulge in a hobby that’s both work and play.

Gobet is no exception. She does about 25 shows a year, but growing up in the business, which is now bringing up its fifth generation in fireworks,  she will also be working that day.

“I will probably be on a barge in downtown Portland,” she said. “My dad usually does that show. We all like to be together that night.”

Learn more about Carnation Fourth activities at

Learn more about Western Display Fireworks at

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