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.
“He was always a bit of a pyro,” recalled his grandson, Bryan Wyrsch. “He loved fireworks.”
It’s been more than three decades since Wyrsch 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 big 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 a starlike 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.”
Pyrotechnics can be an exciting thrill, even for the people on the business end of a mortar.
“All the young guys, they want to light the show,” says Hoyle. “I want the crowd to be happy and pleased, and nobody to get hurt.”
Eagle typically fires one of its own makes 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 9:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, 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.
Fireworks fun facts
• Fireworks were invented in China, more than 2,000 years ago. The first mention of them comes from 7th century A.D. China.
• China makes and exports most of the fireworks in the world—90 percent of all fireworks come from China.
• The first Fourth of July fireworks display was in 1776, in the then-U.S. capitol city of Philadelphia.
• Dreaming about fireworks means that you like to be the centre of attention and are showing off to others. It also symbolizes enthusiasm and exhilaration.
• Fireworks are not fun for animals. Always keep dogs and cats inside the house when fireworks are being let off. Stay calm and make sure they have somewhere to hide.
• The word for firework in Japanese is ‘hanabi’, which actually means “fire-flower”.
• A sparkler burns at a temperature over 15 times the boiling point of water. Three sparklers burning together generate the same heat as a blowtorch. When your sparkler goes out, put it in a bucket of water.
• France uses fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day and the storming of the prison of the Bastille.
• Static electricity in synthetic clothing can set off firecrackers. People making firecrackers wear only cotton clothing.
• At first fireworks were only orange and white. In the Middle Ages new colours were achieved by adding different salts. The hardest colour to create is blue.
• Sparklers can be used to make funny pictures. All you need is a totally dark setting, a sparkler to draw with and a camera recording a long exposure.
The world’s largest firework display to date was when 77,282 firework projectiles were launched in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Kuwait’s constitution, on November 10, 2012.
• Source: Wikipedia.com, thefireworksfirm.co.uk, ehow.com