Tag Archives: Fireworks

Bonus Snapshots: A Patriotic Fourth in Ottawa, Kansas

This year, our Fourth of July reflected on why we’re able to celebrate the holiday in the first place. Jim and I kicked off our holiday at the Glorious Fourth celebration at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas, where we joined over a hundred other early birds for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a great oration on why our history is important, and a nice breakfast of apple-stack cakes. I realized as the Declaration of Independence was being read how long it has been since I’ve really thought about what those soon-to-be Americans were fighting for, and how we’re still sorting out those hopes and needs today.

Our day ended with a fabulous fireworks display hosted by the city. Thousands of Ottawans sat on the levee walls of the Marais des Cygnes River downtown to watch a magnificent show.

After the fire: the aftermath of a prairie blaze in Franklin County

One weekend ago, Jim and I were following the historic driving tour of northeastern Franklin County. The golden fields were beautiful, but the land was dry, so dry. The creek beds were filled with dying weeds; the ponds were waterless cracked craters.

Kansas is in a drought. When Kansas is in a drought, all of that beautiful golden grass amounts to acres and acres of kindling.

The eastern edge of the fire, where a wooded area still smolders a day later.

She just had to shoot off her fireworks.

According to the Ottawa Herald, the fireworks stand owners wouldn’t allow her to shoot off her fireworks in their parking lot. So she drove up the road and lit her loot.

A fallen tree still smolders a day later near Osborne Terrace, just east of I-35.

Kansans have a love/hate relationship with prairie fires. Controlled, they’re a valuable tool in renewing fields, burning out brush and returning minerals to the soil. Uncontrolled, they can mean economic, ecological, and physical disaster. Photographer Larry Schwarm has captured their mesmerizing magnificence. But the can also be very dangerous, moving too fast for people or animals to outrun.

Likely scared out of its burrow, this bunny didn’t make it to safety. Seeing this bunny broke my heart.

Sometimes prairie fires are started completely by accident. A lightning strike. An errant ash caught in the wind. An overheated car pulled to the side of the road.

Her fireworks set off a blaze.

Nearly 40 acres were scorched. A hay field and thousands of dollars worth of hay bales were incinerated. A field recently planted with soybeans was destroyed. Little animals, like rabbits, were asphyxiated trying to escape. And 15 firefighters suffered injuries while battling the fire on a 101-degree day.

One of many hay bales destroyed in the July 3 blaze near Nebraska Road.

The blaze damaged utility poles along Osborne Terrace.

An elderly couple driving a white sedan pulled up with our truck as we studied the still smoldering fields.

The woman sat behind the wheel, shaking her head at the remnants of the field as the little old man next to her stared, open-mouthed, at the destruction. She told us that she lived on the other side of the highway. “I’ve never seen anything like this here,” she said. “I hope the person who is responsible for this pays.”

It could just as easily been her land. Her fields.

The fire was contained. Compared to other fires burning in Colorado and Western Kansas, it was small. But to the owners of those fields, to the animals who couldn’t escape, it was still a total loss.

Nearly 40 acres were destroyed by a rapidly moving fire near Nebraska Road and Highway 68 in Franklin County.

Fireworks: the thrill and the terror (unless/even when they’re handled by a pro)

At 8:47 p.m. Saturday night, my husband and I tossed some bug spray, lawn chairs, bottles of water and our cameras into the car and headed for Emporia State University.

“It’s going to be the best fireworks show yet,” Jim said, as I maneuvered the car into a parking space. Realizing that we were about to walk through Wilson Park, I doused my ankles in bug spray. Luckily for us, we didn’t need the lawn chairs; there was still plenty of room in Welch Stadium.

A great fireworks show opens with a burst of colors and noise. Emporia Community Fireworks Show, July 2, 2011. Photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane.

While I was growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, the only fireworks banned by municipal law were bottlerockets and any explosive the size of an M-80 or larger, which meant that Kansas City, Missouri did big business with all of the KCK folk driving across the river. A week or so before the Fourth, tents and plywood shacks cropped up all over town overnight like mushrooms after a storm. Handmade signs screamed FIREWORKS! and us kids vibrated with excitement.

“Can we get some fireworks? Please dad?” My brother and I asked, year after year.

“Not until the day before,” he almost always said, and we sagged in disappointment.

Finally, the big day came, and dad gave us each $5 to spend at the fireworks stand. It was time for the big question: Quantity, or Quality? For kids aged 10 and under, the answer was almost always quantity.

Once you get the crowd's attention, you let the smoke clear and build anticipation with a few smaller, tantilizing bursts of color. Emporia Community Fireworks Show, July 2, 2011. Photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane.

Some years, we would load up on snaps, which we gleefully threw at each other, and Black Cat firecrackers, which we used to blow up mud puddles and G.I. Joe dolls. (Safety, schmafety.) Some years we tried the prepackaged bags of fireworks, full of weird explosives with Chinese instructions we couldn’t decipher, and could only guess at what they would do.

“I can’t figure out how to light this,” I remember saying. “Maybe you just set the whole thing on fire,” one of the other neighbor kids would answer. And when nothing happened, we all wondered how much time to give it before assuming it was a dud.

My brother had a fondness for the little tanks, that were supposed to propel themselves while firing through their barrels, but rarely worked right.  I personally adored fountains, though I was never patient enough to wait until dark to light them, minimizing their beauty.

While my brother and I piddled away our begged-for five bucks on those little things, our neighbors, the Wilsons, shelled out for the fun night stuff. When it was finally dark—and it seemed like we waited FOREVER for nightfall–the entire neighborhood would gather in the street on our dead end with with whatever fireworks booty was still remaining. And Jack Wilson always pulled out the cool stuff. Especially to the 10 and under crowd.

The fireworks get bigger... Emporia Community Fireworks Show, July 2, 2011. Photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane

Before I say more, I must confess: as much as I love watching fireworks, I hate being the one to actually light them. After having a firecracker blow up prematurely, burning my leg and leaving a permanent scar, my modus operandi when it came to fireworks was touching the punk to the fuse and running like hell before even checking to see if the fuse was burning. There were just enough instances of fireworks gone wrong – I still shudder at memories of being chased by renegade jumping jacks and ground bloom flowers – to keep me cautious. I had to force myself to be brave and not throw a sparkler to the ground as it burned down closer and closer to my hand, gripping with the care of a welder finishing the seams on a bomb casing.

Then there were times a fountain or a roman candle fell over before it finished firing.

But us kids were willing to overlook those moments of terror while a ground bloom flower spun and whistled and changed colors, or a fountain shot a stream of sparkles twenty feet in the air, or a roman candle shot all of its charges into the sky.

As long as I wasn’t lighting them, it was magical.

And brighter... Emporia Community Fireworks Show, July 2, 2011. Photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane.

Lighting fireworks in your yard really wasn’t part of the downtown Los Angeles experience, and I had almost forgotten about that Fourth of July tradition until I moved back to Kansas. Emporia didn’t allow fireworks in city limits at that time, but the community display was a BIG DEAL. So my husband and I walked from our house to the Lyon County Fairgrounds and joined the throngs of people gathering in the parking lots and sitting on the street curbs to watch the show.

It started out beautifully: big, majestic blooms of color. Then a horrible thing happened. The stand holding the pyrotechnics fell over, the the fireworks fired sideways.

It was childhood terror, all over again.

The community fireworks show decided it was time to retool a little.

And then a few little fireworks keep your attention while the smoke clears out... Emporia Community Fireworks Show, July 2, 2011. Photo by Diana Staresinic-Deane

If you have ever watched a fireworks show, you know there is a rhythm to how the fireworks are set off. A few big colorful explosions warm up the crowd, then some teasers, then a break to clear the smoke before the grand finale. Bernie Toso, our local pyrotechnic, and his crew are genius at picking just the right series of colors, textures, and sounds to keep a half-hour show interesting and beautiful. And this year, thanks to contributions from Lyon County, the City of Emporia, and the Clint Bowyer 79 Fund, Bernie and his gang of pyromaniacs had the funds to do a great show. The fireworks show was also moved to Emporia State University, a space big enough to allow for a bigger crowd, and a safer distance between the crowd and the things that go boom.

My husband and I settled onto a bench in Welch Stadium. The stands were filled with families, kids so excited they were running laps around the track. I watched a little girl in dress shoes run four laps around the track pushing her brother in a stroller.

And then the very first firework exploded in the sky, and everyone stilled to watch.

They bloomed like flowers. Their fingers sprang from a central core, reaching out until you thought you could reach back and touch them. The colors, the textures, the sounds: it was mesmerizing. The crowd was enchanted, quiet with only an occasional murmur of admiration. There was no music, only the crackle and thunder and as the sound waves hit you in the chest.

After the last explosion, darkness settled over the stadium, and it was completely silent. Just for a heartbeat. And then the crowd broke out into whistles and applause.

And just in case you missed it, or you want to relive it, here is the grand finale of this weekend’s Emporia Community Fireworks Show, complete with cheering and train whistles, as shot by my husband, Jim Deane.