New Year’s fireworks in Columbia promises to be famously fun

jholleman@thestate.comDecember 27, 2012 

  • VIDEO: LAST YEAR’S FIREWORKS Can’t wait for Dec. 31? You can watch a video of last year’s Famously Hot New Year fireworks show; click here

VIDEO: Last year’s fireworks show in downtown Columbia

The fireworks show was one of the few disappointments at the first Famously Hot New Year concert in 2011. The show was good, but it wasn’t Famously Hot.

Depending on where you were in relation to the buildings along Main Street, the fireworks blasts were hard to see. This year will be different.

The short planning window last year and the location of the stage at the intersection of Main and Hampton streets forced show producers to use low-level fireworks that go up only about 150 feet. This year’s show will have high-level shells soaring up to 500 feet, said Justin Pruett, who will produce the show for Pyrotecnico.

“If you can see the city skyline, you’ll be able to see it,” Pruett said.

With the stage at Main and Gervais streets this year, people at the concert also will have clearer sight lines of the fireworks, which will be launched from behind the State House.

The show is programmed to last about seven minutes, and you’ll want to stick with it through the finale. Of the nearly 700 shells used in the show, about 450 will go off in the final minute, Pruett said.

“The grand finale will be huge,” Pruett said.

Lighting up the sky

If you don’t want to stay up until midnight, a slightly less grand show will be launched around 9 p.m. at Finlay Park as part of the WOW! New Year’s Eve Carnival. Pruett said the WOW! fireworks actually will last longer, but the finale won’t compare to the Famously Hot show.

The design of fireworks shows hasn’t changed much through the years, but the mechanics have. Now, the big companies such as Pyrotecnic use computers to time each launch. That allows for better pacing, Pruett said.

Do-it-yourself shows

At Casey’s Fireworks, at 3830 Rosewood Drive in Columbia, about 85 percent of sales come around Fourth of July (55 percent) or Christmas/New Year’s (30 percent), said owner John Casey. And the Christmas/New Year’s sales period usually gets a jump start from the Hindu festival of Diwali, which this year was in the middle of November.

Casey’s, which has been selling fireworks since 1949, draws customers from all over the country. Because of South Carolina’s less strict laws on sales of fireworks, visitors from other states for generations have shopped here for their pyrotechnics.

The most popular item at Casey’s used to be a $39.95 variety package. In recent years, bucking the country’s economic problems, the $89.95 variety package has been the biggest seller. Most people who buy the packages also pick up another $20 or so in individual items.

The other major changes in retail fireworks in recent years, according to Casey: Smaller items at lower prices, more powerful items at higher prices, and brighter neon colors.

There’s another business called Fireworks Over America at 916 Rosewood Drive, but you can’t go there to buy a box of sparklers. Fireworks Over America is a wholesaler that imports fireworks from China and distributes them in large quantities to retail businesses from Miami to Maine.

Fireworks trivia

Did you know South Carolina has a Board of Pyrotechnic Safety, which is in the Office of the State Fire Marshal? Agents with the board inspect buildings and stands where fireworks are manufactured, sold or stored to make sure they meet state codes.

It seems as if fireworks stands are on every other corner. But through Dec. 18, the state had issued permits to only 653 fireworks stands, 463 fireworks stores and 141 consumer fireworks resale facilities, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

It also seems as if there are more stands during the Fourth of July period than during the New Year’s period. That perception is correct. The state this year issued 90-day permits for 452 stands in the July 4 window and 201 (through Dec. 18) in the New Year’s window.

Be safe. Fireworks improperly handled can hurt you. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported about 9,600 people sought medical care for fireworks injuries in the U.S. in 2011. For perspective: About 800,000 people seek medical attention each year for dog bites, and 200,000 for playground injuries.

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