Behind the scenes of Tampa Fireworks Fourth of July display

3:22 PM, Jul 4, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Fla. -- There are lots of events scheduled to celebrate the fourth of July in the Bay Area.

One of the biggest is downtown Tampa's event at Channelside. Each year, it's where thousands of people gather for a huge fireworks show, all synchronized to music.

Ever wonder how they make it happen? It's not easy.

What takes only a few minutes to literally go up in smoke and flames requires weeks of planning and preparation.

"It's a scripted show. Every shell is designed to do a special effect. And it's launched to music, which makes it even better," says Pyrotecnico's Todd Hester.

Hester is the producer behind this year's show. He offered 10 News a rare, behind-the-scenes tour of the boom barge that carries the pyrotechnics for the show. And there are hundreds of them varying in size and effect.

"Each cue can be one shell, two shells, three shells," says Hester as he points at parts of the barge. "That's why you see smaller racks here. Bigger racks on that side and these are mixed racks."

The fireworks themselves are a variety of mortars and colored tubes, with fuses and wiring stringing their way to a control board. They are all controlled by Hester, who ignites each one with a button push, following a script right down to the second.

The explosives are carefully arranged and coordinated so they fire into the air at different altitudes. "Every shell is choreographed," says Hester. "You see fours and fives are all different shells and they're set to go off at a certain time."

The barge is divided into stages for the display. One part houses the opening sequence. Another has the body of the show. The finale, which they were still working on this afternoon, is divided into three different areas.

At the end of the barge is a small hut that Hester will use for shelter during the show, just in case something goes wrong.

"Things happen. You never know what's gonna happen," he says. "We are dealing with explosives and if anyone thinks it's not dangerous, it is."

But if he does his job right, Hester says it's always a jaw-dropping series of "oo's and ah's" -- a presentation evoking a sense of awe and pride.

"If all goes as planned, it's a spectacular show," he says, "and the Tampa Bay Area will be excited and they'll have an awesome Fourth of July."

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