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Pyrotechnics pack them in

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By Ramsey Scott

It just doesn’t feel like the Fourth of July without a big, colorful fireworks display. 

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Especially if you’re the one putting on the show.

“This is our Fourth of July. Some people have barbecues — we shoot fireworks,” said Les Nack, a member of the Western Enterprises Inc. crew that was responsible for Littleton’s 21-minute-long fireworks display to cap the city’s July Fourth celebration. “I think you have to have a little firebug in you to do this job.”

Nack has made his living shooting off fireworks since the 1960s. And he’s made it a family affair as well: Nack’s son-in-law, Bob Kovach, has been working with Western for 27 years, and Nack’s daughter and grandnephews help with the day-long set-up that’s required for a professional show. 

The key word when working with hundreds of pounds of explosives isn’t speed — it’s safety. It took the Western crew from sunrise until late afternoon to set up the pyrotechnics across the street from Cornerstone Park. 

Crew members douse their clothes with anti-static spray to prevent any static-electric charge from setting off the fireworks while they’re placed in their tubes. Boxes are carried instead of dragged to prevent friction-generated sparks. 

“Everything here is a little dangerous. But we always use proper procedure,” Nack said. “I’ve still got all my fingers.” 

Nack said the technology and safety mechanisms have come a long way since he first started working with Western. Early in his career, technicians would place large metal tubes in sand, and then someone with a lighter would run down the line, lighting each fuse.  

“After it shot, you’d run back and load it again,” Nack said. “We’d be covered in all kinds of ash and paper and debris.”

Now the show’s components are activated electronically, and each tube is preloaded with a group of shells designed to ignite at a precise time. 

Despite the change in technology, one thing remains the same for those who shoot off fireworks for a living. 

“You get an adrenaline rush when you start shooting off the fireworks,” said Bob Kovach.

Show goes off with a bang

Littleton had billed its show as bigger and better, and the show didn’t disappoint. The pyrotechnic display of patriotism drew what is believed to be record crowds to Cornerstone, Progress and Belleview parks.

While official crowd estimates are difficult to come by, Littleton spokeswoman Kelli Narde said longtime officials with Littleton, Englewood and the South Suburban Park and Recreation District said it was the largest they’d ever seen. 

Narde tried to use an application on her phone that estimates crowd sizes; she said it indicated up to 100,000 people had crowded into all three parks.

“I cannot say with any degree of certainty (how many people we had), but it took me an hour to get home, and I live five minutes away,” Narde said.

The large crowds created some post-show headaches, as attendees all departed at once after the final rocket’s red glare. Belleview Avenue, Littleton Boulevard and parts of Broadway were bumper to bumper. 

“I think they moved people out of there as efficiently and quickly as possible, considering the size of the crowd,” Narde said. 

Narde said she believed the cancellation of fireworks shows across the Front Range, including in Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Parker, contributed to the number of people who packed the parks. She spoke with one woman who came to Littleton with her three sons because of cancellations down south. 

Even with the post-show traffic jams, Narde said she was very happy with the event. 

“It was the best (fireworks show) I’ve ever seen,” Narde said. “Boy I just thought the finale was just really impressive.”

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.