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Fireworks producer holds breath about windy night

Rob Sabo
rsabo@nnbw.biz

Bryan Leiran, production manager for Lantis Fireworks and Lasers, the production company that stages the annual Star Spangled Sparks fireworks show atop John Ascuaga’s Nugget, has the intricacies of putting on the pyrotechnic display in downtown Sparks down to an exact science — almost.

Leiran begins planning the next July 4 fireworks show almost as soon as exploded shells stop falling in the Union Pacific Rail Yard. But despite the months of planning and thousands of man-hours that go into the annual fireworks display, there’s one thing his company can’t control: the wind.

Last year’s show was delayed more than an hour due to wind gusts upwards of 25 miles per hour (state law prohibits launching fireworks in winds greater than 15 mph). Leiran and Nugget executives worried their fingernails to the quick that night, but the show eventually kicked off after 10:30, much to the delight of the tens of thousands of revelers gathered along Victorian Avenue and nearby spots to witness the impressive aerial display.

Lantis Fireworks and Lasers, headquartered at Draper, Utah, puts on more than 100 Independence Day fireworks shows. Just last week Leiran traveled to Idaho, Colorado, Utah and Nevada to coordinate shows.

“It’s the no-rest-for-the-wicked time of year,” he says.

And though Lantis puts on hundreds of July 4 and New Year’s fireworks shows each year, shooting thousands of high-powered pyrotechnic rockets from high atop the Nugget’s two towers holds a special place in Leiran’s heart.

“The Nugget is just one of those places that is a dream to get to shoot,” he said last week. “You have two mirrored towers and a back location that allows you to have smaller aerial effects with larger aerial shells in the background. It is just a special place to shoot from and is pretty dear to me. It’s exciting for me to shoot that one.”

Lantis will begin planning for the 2014 fireworks show in the next few weeks. Crews meet for extended production conferences that wrap up in late July, and work on next year’s shows begins in earnest in January when the Lantis team begins brainstorming sessions for music, finalizing contracts and securing permits for the upcoming shows.

Successfully pulling off the biggest Independence Day event in northern Nevada also is a yearlong task requiring thousands of man-hours for the Nugget, says Beth Cooney, executive vice president of marketing.

Nugget staff plans for Star Spangled Sparks and other large special events such as Street Vibrations and the annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cookoff for most of the year. The biggest challenges with the fireworks show are coordinating the various entities that have a stake in the game, mainly Union Pacific, air traffic control at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Nevada Highway Patrol, City of Sparks police and fire departments, and nearby businesses, especially those located in the fall zone for exploded fireworks shells.

“It is just a massive coordination of public and private industry; that is the biggest challenge,” Cooney says. “This is our 14th year, and everyone really gets excited about the event and wants it to be a big success for the community.”

In addition to hiring extra security personnel, maintenance workers and cleaning crews, the Nugget has to boost staff inside the hotel-casino. Nearly all the casino’s bar staff, waiters, hostesses, cocktail waitresses and dozens of other positions are on the clock to deal with the heavy volume of guests and casino patrons.

“It is just an amazing amount of work,” Cooney says.

Just as much work goes into setup and coordination of the show. Lantis last Friday loaded a semi truck full of fireworks made in Australia and China headed for Sparks, and a crew of 12 to 14 specialists began work the next day setting up the show. The pyrotechnicians will work 10- to 12-hour days — often well into the night using the casino’s ambient lighting to keep working. Lantis will shoot off more than 5,000 shot effects, which contain multiple fireworks.

Leiran conducts three different site analyses during the year to verify there’s been no physical changes in the shooting area, a 750-foot radius that includes the entire Union Pacific rail yard and the whole backside of the Nugget.

Due to the height of the Nugget towers and the unpredictability of the winds, Leiran says planning and execution of Star Spangled Sparks ranks in the 80th to 90th percentile of difficulty for all shows put on by Lantis. Timing sequenced fireworks can be especially challenging, but by using computer-simulated fireworks display software Lantis can time explosions to one-tenth of a second.

Experts are on hand the night of the event to make last-minute modifications to the timing of launches due to the wind.

“When we are bouncing from one rooftop to another or doing chaser sequences, it’s really crucial as far as timing goes so your visual element is repeated,” Leiran says.


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