1992 4th of July Fireworks Mishap Almost Turned Lubbock, Texas into a Raging Inferno
Editor's Note: This article is a first-person account from Lubbock, Texas radio personality Wes Nessman who provides a photo of the incident.
The year was 1992. The 4th on Broadway thing (ed: now an annual Independence Day event) had only started a year prior. Even at this moment, celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks and rock music sounds better than marching bands on hot asphalt to us. We were teamed up with Texas Water Rampage for a few years prior, and we were cocked, loaded and ready to rock. The place was packed, and the highway was lined for miles with cars who wanted to watch.
I doubt it's any different now, but back then the fireworks profession was filled with a lot of temporary workers who apparently get only a minimum of training. With there being great demand on the 4th of July, it's no wonder that you might get some folks that are a little less than experienced.
It may not be fair to make the assumption that a lack of training was the problem, but I can tell you that I was presented with a fireworks handler who was very backwoods and smelled like he'd been pounding beers all day. The setup was not more impressive. There were only a few fireworks tubes (mortars) with hundreds of cannonball size fireworks laid out on moving blankets. Oh, and to light these fireworks? A roadside flare.
My job was to help synch up the fireworks that were being presented behind a large privacy fence. From what I know now, I don't think it was far enough away.
The way these "synchronized" fireworks displays work is, the music is started three seconds earlier on-site than it is on the radio. The fireworks guys know that if they start a fuse when they hear a beat or big moment, it will appear to explode when that beat or moment happens on the radio.
My job was to start the boombox for the fireworks guy, then get the hell out of there. I did just that and a few went airborne, but as I neared the fence, I heard the hissing of a thousand rattlesnakes. I turned around to look and the huge pile of fireworks had ignited.
I ran through the gate and yelled at the crowd "EVERYBODY GET DOWN!" at which point everybody stood up. Then, there was a giant explosion and the huge fireworks display went off pretty much all at once.
The "official" explanation was that one of the first three fireworks lit must have arced back down and caught the other ones on fire. My guess is, this guy was walking around with a lit flare, bent down to get refills and set the whole mess off. I'm just glad everyone was okay.