Interest in July 4 laser light shows up dramatically

By Sandy Yang The Associated Press
Thursday June 27, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Some groups have canceled their traditional fireworks extravaganzas and some have gone hunting for alternatives because it’s so hot, so dry and so dangerous in California this year. 

Fireworks shows are still on at most big show sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities throughout California, authorities said. But some of the pyrotechnics designed for business celebrations, company picnics and promotional events have been scrapped. 

Laser light show producers say calls about shows are 20 times higher than last year. 

“Without a question, we’ve had 20 times more phone calls,” said Kevin Bilida, president of TLC Creative Special Effects, which specializes in pyrotechnic, laser light and other shows. 

“Every single fireworks show that had a question mark — whether it was going to be perceived as dangerous — has been canceled. It’s not worth the liability,” he said. 

San Bernardino County on Wednesday canceled annual fireworks shows in Lake Arrowhead and Lake Gregory. 

“There’s nothing like a good fireworks show, but the alternative to having any threat to our forest is not acceptable,” Fire Marshal Peter Brierty said. 

“A lot of standing dead trees are in our mountains, and if you have sparks raining down on them, it’s much more difficult to put out. It was a very, very difficult decision to make, but the pictures of Arizona tell the story,” he said, referring to a wildfire there that has burned more than 400,000 acres and destroyed nearly 400 homes. 

Lake Arrowhead is looking at alternative events for the Fourth of July, including a laser light show and a carnival, Brierty said. 

In Orange County’s Newport Beach, the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort has canceled its show, a 43-year tradition, because of increasing costs and the lack of liability insurance. 

“The costs have been rising dramatically for several years,” Andrew Theodorou, general manager of the resort, told The Orange County Register. 

While the high-powered lasers can be flammable, they are less likely to start fires than fireworks and their embers that may not burn out before they reach the ground. 

“Your fire danger is way low obviously,” said David Lytle, editor of the Laserist, a magazine on the laser display industry. “I’ve never heard of a laser causing a fire — ever.” 

Laser light show producers said most callers are worried about fire hazards. When they find out how much the laser shows cost, however, their worries are compounded. 

“There have been a lot of inquiries, triple from last year,” said Ivan Dryer, president of Laser Images, Inc. in Los Angeles. “A lot of them don’t have the budget for laser shows; they thought they were cheaper than fireworks, but that’s not necessarily true.” 

An extravagant, 20-minute laser light show — including graphics and aerial effects — can cost up to $12,000, while fireworks cost about $12,000 for a 20-minute show, Dryer said. 

However, laser light shows are more of a do-it-yourself kind of spectacle, said Neville Hanchett, President of Mobolazer Inc. in Thousand Oaks who also sets up firework shows. 

“It’s easier for people to do laser shows than firework shows,” he said. “There are more channels to go through for a fireworks show. You need a fire marshal on site. Lasers are like a free-for-all, you can buy your own system and make your own show.” 

Hanchett also prefers the sensory appeal of fireworks. 

“I would rather watch a fireworks show with the bang and the smoke instead of a light show,” Hanchett said. “You’re painting the sky with light, and although you can do a lot of cool things with beams, I never tire of seeing a good fireworks show.”