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October 18, 2012
This belief was modestly reinforced at my uncle’s 1984 Guy Fawkes party. Not familiar with the unpredictable trajectory nature of fireworks, he paid scant attention to their placement. As a result, the majority toppled over, shot across the grass, then pounded into the fence. Fortunately we’d had had a lot of rain recently so the damage was limited to my uncle’s ego. After this, I tended to enjoy fireworks from a distance.
Years later, at our annual Halloween parties held after the rounds of trick-or-treating, my children and I would gather with friends over dessert and view the neighbourhood pyrotechnical displays from the comfort of our living room window. As we resided on the top of a hill, the prevailing show was spectacular and certainly safe.
Too safe. In fact, All Hallows Eve had grown rather dull; it was time to spice things up. Apparently the others thought so too. In 2005, my friends’ 15-year-old son phoned with a query. ‘Would it be okay if I brought two pals and . . . some . . . fireworks . . . to this year’s do?’ My response was positive; any lingering notions of tomfoolery or hooliganism vanquished. This could be just the ticket to a more fun, perhaps even edgy, Halloween!
Things got off to a grand start. The three boys were extremely careful. They cautiously selected the first of the candidates from their cardboard cache while the rest of us – five adults and three young children – huddled a tad nervously on our front porch steps. We were initially treated to a wealth of ground spinners; Tasmanian Devils quickly becoming my personal favourite. Everyone marveled as they hissed, spun and whizzed harmlessly along the concrete sidewalk. As the last one fizzled, we called for the lighting of the fountains. Soon, silver showers of Volcanic Eruptions rained down before us. Encouraged by the crowd’s enthusiasm, the lads followed up with a plethora of poppers, spinners and roman candles; worth every penny.
Sadly, it was soon growing late for the youngest viewers so I inquired about the potential for a grand finale. Grins spread across the boys’ faces and after a brief discussion, they came to a mutual decision. ‘We’ll close with . . . the Gangsta Blast.’
Interesting name. As they shoved it into a shallow mound of dirt, they promised “a finale of 50 shots of colourful stars!’ Unfortunately, within seconds of it being lit, the tall, rather impressive rocket slowly plopped sideways, unleashing its relentless barrage of crackling red, silver, green and blue stars straight across the lawn. Stunned, we watched as they seared over the roof of my neighbour’s white van before harmlessly fizzling into the night. Shades of 1984.
Or so I thought. Something caught my eye. A tiny, flickering flame, winking from the depths of a small heather on the edge of our garden. Unlike 1984, we hadn’t had rain for days. Loath to panic, I casually sauntered to the nearby tap to turn on the hose. ‘Fire!’ my suddenly dim-witted friend Dave exclaimed. Sheet white, with sweat beads breaking out on his forehead, his reaction was totally inappropriate for my smouldering heather.
Then my eyes followed his. Across the street, far from the heather, yet mere feet from a tidy bungalow, a majestic blue spruce was in trouble. Crimson flames, growing larger by the second, were quickly arcing skyward, greedily consuming innocent branches. As acrid fumes filled the air, a solid wall of pulsating heat gathered strength.
Dave leapt into action, snatching the storage tin I’d hastily grabbed from the basement. Over and over, he dashed across the street to hurl water on the flames. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, but was surely just minutes, the fire was out. As I turned to commend my exhausted hero, his face blackened with soot, we heard the surging caterwaul of an approaching, somehow summoned fire truck.
Ignoring my profuse apologies for a wasted trip, the rugged firefighters enlightened us with a scary fact. Over 50 fires had already erupted that evening in Burnaby. The main cause? Dry conditions combined with improper use of fireworks. Our situation exactly.
Hallowe’en night is very different now. Our current fireworks master, my teenage son (whom I’m happy to report is far from a hooligan), carefully buries each firework to half its depth in a bucket full of sand; water at hand. No more tomfoolery for this family.
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