Wildhorse fireworks burn away worries of rain

Domestic and imported fireworks from Italy and China light up the sky.

Domestic and imported fireworks from Italy and China light up the sky. Photo by Michael Lopez.

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The rain clouds that had hugged the Blue Mountain all afternoon had finally moseyed over to Wildhorse Resort & Casino, bringing healthy gusts. But that wasn’t about to stop master pyrotechnician and Homeland Fireworks owner Bruce Lawson from creating another special fireworks extravaganza for the resort’s 19th anniversary on March 8.

As in a 2,300-pounds-of-explosives extravaganza.

Despite the weather, Lawson’s smile could not have been wider.

“It’s not a deal breaker,” he said, eyeing the darkening sky. “As long as the wind is not blowing toward spectators.”

None of the thousands of people in place at the resort two hours before the 8 p.m. show looked like they were going anywhere. More and more cars snaked in from Interstate 84 as time for ignition approached, slowing to stop-and-go as the clock inched forward.

The fireworks display has grown into a regional event, drawing spectators from around the Northwest, said Wildhorse event coordinator Juliana Luke.

The resort’s hotel and RV park get booked far in advance, returning guests reserving their favorite rooms. Kids come home from college and grandchildren get introduced to the hoopla.

“It’s absolutely tradition for people,” Luke said.

Lawson and his crew of 20 technicians — which includes his adult children — work hard to keep it that way. This is one of the two biggest fireworks shows in all of Oregon, Lawson said, the other being at the annual Oregon International Air Show on the other side of the state.

At Wildhorse the stage for filling the sky with fiery stars is about 200 feet wide, where Lawson’s team has placed more than 2,000 domestic and imported shells ranging from small to eight inches long.

That’s in the field next to the resort’s gold course. Closer to the parking lot — and watchers — is the Wall of Fire that rises from the ground like atomic mushrooms of flame. Spectators can feel the heat for 1,000 feet, Luke said, and Homeland Fireworks is the only company certified in the state to produce the effect.

Lawson’s crew also built a three-story rattan framework, implanting fireworks in a pattern to duplicate the resort’s logo. At the end of the 25-minute show, those are lit for a last burning memory.

Lawson designs his company’s shows using computer programming, a galaxy away from when he used Excel spreadsheets and labeled each firework with a pen.

Homeland Fireworks gets invited to work all over the Pacific Northwest, but the Eastern Oregon show remains a favorite.

“A show like this is typically only seen back East … it’s 100 percent pyro musical, where all the devices match up with music,” Lawson said.

And how much does such a wonder cost?

“I can’t say,” Lawson said, smiling and ducking his head. “It’s a lot.”

Cost and care were evident the minute the show launched at 8:05 p.m. as the parking lot lights went dark.

Golden shooters greeted the crowd, going up, up, up to explode and drizzle streams of light back onto the ground. That was followed by nonstop explosions of red, green, turquoise and purple before ribbons of fire distilled into stars dancing on air.

“Spirit in The Sky,” broadcast on site and live by Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla Indian Reservation radio station KCUW, was fitting for the rapid-fire florets of vibrant color that next peppered the sky and provided backup percussion. The music evolved into an airy ballet as graceful arcs of meteors showered the land.

The rain ended. The fireworks did not. Fountains of spangles danced with crystal blue rhinestones as “Royals,” by Lorde, coated each sparkle with sweet sound.

Time stopped as umbrellas of light covered the crowds while torches, once heaven bound, burned back toward earth. A barrage of constellations ascended above the Wall of Fire as it once again roared to life, eliciting shouts from onlookers.

At last the incendiary Wildhorse logo served its purpose, blazing forth a trio of flaming horses racing toward the mountains. The audience followed suit, heading off into the night, headlights a dim echo of the celebration.

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