Light it Up
Your guide to this summer’s best backyard fireworks
By Kristi Kates | June 30, 2018
Every Fourth of July, you’re faced with two choices: You can cram your kids and blankets and lawn chairs and snacks in the car and fight the crowds so you can be wowed by your town’s fantastic and free fireworks display. Or you can spend some money to risk life, limb, and your neighbor’s good graces to ignite your own backyard fireworks show.
Both options offer some pros and cons, but if you’re hosting a party on or around the Fourth of July — remember: state law says you can only shoot off fireworks the day before, day after, and day of the national holiday — an at-home fireworks show is as essential as apple pie. Here’s what’s hot (pun intended) now.
COLOR ME NEON
Neon colors — the brightest of firework colors that almost seem to be 3D when viewed up in the sky — are one of the most buzzed-about things in the fireworks industry this season.
“All of our fireworks are made in China, and China is doing really well right now with all of the neon-colored fireworks,” said Sean Conn, vice president of Big Fireworks in Lansing. “One of our most spectacular items is a 5-inch neon Supershell, which goes up the highest and breaks the biggest!” (“Break” is the term for the flower-shaped firework display that most of us are familiar with.)
Bill Barnes, owner of TC Pro Fireworks in Traverse City, agreed.
“Those are the most spectacular,” he said. “They go a couple of hundred feet up, and make huge, colorful breaks or blooms — some of them even have new color-changing technology.”
Two of the most popular emojis have managed to transcend social media and become the new must-have in the fountain fireworks department (fountains fireworks are stationary ground fireworks that shoot sparks up and out into the air, up to about 12 feet high. Unicorn- and poop-shaped fountain fireworks are huge this year, said Conn. “The unicorn and poo emoji fountains — which feature plenty of sparks and an intense crackle sound — are both huge sellers.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Star Wars has also transcended the screen.
“We have hand-held lightsaber fountains that are fun for kids to hang onto with supervision,” said Barnes. “Those shoot sparks out as well.”
Other hot sellers include fountains shaped like tanks, pandas, and the ever-popular “Big Chicken,” a chicken-shaped fountain that blasts sparks out of its … back.
It takes a seasoned pro to put together the best, brightest, and biggest fireworks displays, so how can an average Joe even get close with his or home display? Nick Tompkins, owner of the Elk Rapids Fireworks Tent, shared the secret: “Repeater cakes.”
“These are fireworks that you simply light once — you light the fuse, and they do multiple different firework effects all right in a row. Then, at the end of their run, they do a final round of four or five effects all at once — bursts, blooms, whistling,” he said. “They’re great! You sit back, and they essentially just do the whole firework show for you!”
There are three other great ways to send those colors high up into the Fourth of July sky. The first are what Tompkins called “consumer-grade mortar rounds.”
“Those make all different colors of dahlia-shaped explosions,” he said.
Next, Sky Lanterns, essentially balloons of light, are lit on one end, released, and float way up into the air where they hover and glow. (Tompkins said the ones he sells are biodegradable.)
And Sky Rockets — similar to bottle rockets — zip up fast like a ‘regular’ bottle rocket, but soar up to 150 feet or so and then explode into a beautiful firework bloom.
Conn was adamant that kids should never use fireworks unsupervised, and he stressed that ‘regular’ sparklers — the type you can find most easily, with metal cores, are “probably the most dangerous firework in the country.”
“You’re essentially giving a welding torch to a four-year-old who’s running around in bare feet,” he said.
Instead, he suggests Morning Glory sparklers for kids.
“Also with adult supervision, of course, but they have bamboo handles so there’s no hot metal, and they don’t have magnesium, so you don’t get the big sparks that you get with regular sparklers. They just crackle and glow,” he said. “They’re not quite as bright but much safer.”
Tompkins suggested another option entirely.
“We have mega-snappers, the things kids can throw on the sidewalk or driveway to make big popping sounds,” he said. “There are several different styles of those available — you just have to be ready for all the noise!”
Find the Elk Rapids Fireworks Tent at 119 Ames St. in Elk Rapids, elkrapidsfireworks.com. TC Pro Fireworks has three locations, in Acme, Grayling, and Petoskey (see profireworks.com for addresses and hours). Big Fireworks has a variety of locations in the Lansing/Ann Arbor area (see bigfireworks.com for addresses and hours).