What are we observing when we watch a fireworks show?
A firework is comprised of several explosive compartments contained in a cylindrical launch tube. Most important to the aerial display are the stars. Stars are small pellets that contain particular mixtures of gunpowder, binding agents, and coloring elements. Hundreds of stars go into a single firework, and are often created by hand. When the stars are detonated, they explode in the colorful, shimmering display we love so much.
How are the stars detonated? A fuse wrapped in a layer of gunpowder travels from the top of the tube through the center of the firework. When the fuse is lit, the spark travels down through the tube and ignites the gunpowder – setting off the stars. A second fuse travels down to an airtight chamber at the bottom of the firework; the heat expansion forces the firework out of the launch tube and hundreds of feet into the air.
In days of old, the fuses were lit by hand. This is not advisable, as thousands of severe burn injuries occur every year through dangerous fireworks play. Instead, SAMLARC’s pyrotechnic partners set up the fireworks on a rack and ignites the fuses electronically. The size of the rack (and therefore, the robustness of the fireworks show) is determined through a combination of factors: air clearance, ground clearance, and building proximity. This year, SAMLARC has acquired the maximum amount of fireworks per rack for our launch space – a breathtaking 8,000 fireworks!
This explanation is on the simpler side, and there are many precautions that should be taken when handling fireworks (including city laws, safe firing practices, and fire prevention). Check out this PBS article to learn more about the ways a firework is built, and the Orange County Fire Authority's Fireworks Safety literature to stay safe!
Heading to the Star Spangled Spectacular? Learn all about it here!