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City fires up for the fourth

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday July 03, 2002

Start practicing your “oohs” and “ahhs.” 

About 1,000 shells of pyrotechnics are ready to be shot into the sky at the Berkeley Marina where more than 40,000 people are expected to gather tomorrow. The $10,000, 25-minute firework display comes as the pinnacle of the city’s seven-year tradition of food, games and celestial explosions on the Fourth of July. 

This year’s celebration, though, is bound to be a little different in light of the current international climate, Berkeley residents say. 

“This is our first chance to celebrate our country since Sept. 11 and people are looking for a good way to do it,” said assistant fire Chief David Orth. “I think we’re seeing a lot more patriotism.” 

Other Berkeley leaders said the same. 

“I’ve been invited to more barbecues this year and I think it’s because people want to pull closer together,” said Kriss Worthington, a city councilmember. 

One thing that the rapidly changing because of politics is Berkeley’s fireworks display, which has run for more than 20 years. The show is put on by Rialto-based Pyro Spectaculars Souza, producer of the world’s largest Macy’s show in New York City, as well as the neighboring San Francisco fireworks show, and hailed by pyrotechnics as the best west of the Mississippi River. 

Unlike the larger shows, the Berkeley show is hand-fired, meaning it has a more homespun approach, said Pyro Spectacular show manager Jeff Thomas. Instead shooting the fireworks automatically from a queue, a person will light each of almost 1,000 shells. 

The perilous job of lighting the shells and then standing back to let them blow out of a firing tube is performed only by experts, Thomas assured. 

Sounding more like a gardener than a pyrotechnician, Thomas described various segments of the show. Palm tree shells fire a branching stream of light. Peonies shoot a simple but colorful stream of fire. And chrysanthemums are one of the most elegant explosions of all. 

Thomas said his favorite firework is called the Brocade Kamuro shell. It’s a big, lingering, umbrella-like explosion he called the “crown jewel of the show.” 

A clear sky is important to the success of the show, Berkeley’s Waterfront Manager Cliff Marchetti said while sounding a little nervous because of the recent fog over San Francisco Bay. 

“I haven’t had a bad firework display in at least six years,” he said. “You could always see the show.” 

Before the fireworks start, among the day’s performers are the nine-member Troupe Tangiers belly dancers who will perform a variety of North African dances. One dance will involve balancing a 12-pound brass tray on each of their heads. Another will enlist water jugs. All dances showcase the rhythmic rolling of the stomach. 

Lessard said that her ability to perform tomorrow reminds her that she is free in this country to express her culture. 

Along with the belly dancers will be musical acts, puppet shows, free boat rides and more than 100 food and art vendors. Events start at noon. 

“It’s a celebration of a very diverse community,” said event organizer Lisa Bullwinkel. “It’s truly representative of what America is all about.” 

Berkeley police and firefighters are taking recent FBI warnings about terrorism seriously and will stage a presence at the Berkeley event. 

In addition, police will screen for fireworks and alcoholic beverages at checkpoints at entrances to the Berkeley Marina. 

“In past years, it’s been relatively quiet in Berkeley,” said Assistant Fire Chief Orth. “However, there is usually at least one house fire in the East Bay because of rockets landing on wood roofs.” 


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