Monday, June 30, 2008

Oooooh, Canada

A French entry opened the Montreal international fireworks competition this year. © Yannick Grandmont for The New York Times

The New York Times
Published: June 27, 2008

LATE last Saturday evening, La Ronde, an amusement park that’s just a stone’s throw from downtown Montreal on an island in the St. Lawrence River, seemed an unlikely venue for a world-class competition. Teenagers with the giggles and other signs of roller-coaster overexposure contemplated yet another ride on the Super Manège or Le Monstre. Younger children, slowed by too much barbe à papa (cotton candy) and poutine (that Québécois concoction of French fries, cheese curds and gravy), were willed along by weary parents. The occasional large Fred Flintstone or Scooby-Doo plush doll appeared among the midway crowd, bounty from booths like Frappez la Taupe (Whack the Mole) and Roulé-Boulé (a form of skeeball).

GENERATIONS Some families haven’t missed any of the shows for years.
But just a few feet away at La Ronde’s small lake, before a grandstand filled with about 5,000 people, with thousands more waiting in anticipation elsewhere in the park, along the riverbanks and on a nearby highway bridge that had been closed to traffic for the occasion, a tuxedoed master of ceremonies introduced Fabrice Chouillier, a French pyrotechnician, and his team. The 24th International des Feux Loto-Québec, the international fireworks competition that runs for two months every summer in Montreal and draws millions of viewers, was about to begin.

Mr. Chouillier, whose company, Prestatech-Artifices, is the first of nine competitors this year, walked through the crowd to a control booth at the top of the grandstand, ready to start his computer-controlled extravaganza, built around the theme of space exploration and synchronized with orchestral passages from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and other works. He’d designed the 30-minute show at his office near Paris, had shipped thousands of shells and other fireworks across the Atlantic, and had been preparing them the last five days at a series of bunkers and platforms in an off-limits section of the park.

Across the lake, the lights on the park’s Ferris wheel flickered off. Among the crowd, the hawkers selling beer and blinking devil’s horns grew silent. As the opening strains of “The Blue Danube” waltz filled the air, a series of pyrotechnic strobes went off on the far side of the lake. The Strauss faded out, replaced by the “10...9...8” of an Apollo-era countdown, each number embellished by a comet, a shell that leaves a glittering trail in its wake. At zero, a line of fountains started spewing fire, and a loud rumbling began. It was as if the whole lake was about to lift off.

For the public, the competition is a chance to see 10 grand pyromusical displays — including a noncompeting show that closes the festivities — throughout the summer. In a city known for its festivals, the fireworks are exclamation marks that punctuate many Saturday nights, and a few Wednesday nights as well. Officials at La Ronde, which was built for the 1967 World’s Fair and is now owned by Six Flags, estimate that last year more than three million people watched the displays.

A jury of 19, chosen from the public, evaluates each performance and at the end awards golden, silver and bronze trophies to the top three. There’s no prize money, but that doesn’t really matter: for Mr. Chouillier and the other pyrotechnicians, just being invited to participate in the competition, generally regarded as the industry’s most prestigious, is an honor.

“It’s a sort of consecration in the life of a fireworks artist,” Mr. Chouillier said last Friday as his team, aided by La Ronde’s own crew, loaded aerial shells up to a foot in diameter into firing tubes.

Or as Stephen Vitale, president of Pyrotecnico, the American entrant in the event this year, put it, “It’s like the Olympics for us.”

It’s also a chance for these companies to design a show just for themselves, rather than carrying out some client’s vision. “What’s great about this competition is you have total freedom,” Mr. Chouillier said.

OF the hundreds of thousands of people who see each show, only a fraction are paying customers in the park. Many are like Marcel Gareau, a construction worker who with his family had driven from the suburbs and was installed in a lawn chair on the Montreal side of the St. Lawrence a full five hours before the fireworks began. The Gareaus have hardly missed a show in a dozen years, watching over the trees and listening to the soundtrack on their car radio.

They’ve seen the work of some of the best fireworks companies worldwide — from China, Australia, Italy, Portugal and elsewhere — but Mr. Gareau has a clear favorite. “The Americans,” he said. “They make the most noise.”

The competitors and the jury like a good racket as much as anyone, but for them the shows are more about conveying emotion through kamuro shells, go-getters, tourbillons, Chinese cakes and other pyrotechnic effects, all intricately synchronized with the music.

You have to have a lot of emotion to think about the soundtrack and the colors and everything,” said Martyne Gagnon, who has directed the competition since 1998 and is herself a licensed pyrotechnician. “It comes from the heart.”

Ms. Gagnon is in charge of choosing the competitors, and she keeps tabs on possible candidates within the small community of professional fireworks companies. She almost always invites teams from Canada, the United States and Australia, a couple from among Europe’s big three — France, Italy and Spain — and usually another European team or two. She tries for one from Asia, and this year she got two, from South Korea and China. Competitors are given a fixed amount of money for materials, but some pay for extra shells and effects out of their own pockets — which may be one reason the Americans make the most noise.

The jurors get a day of training in the science and art of pyrotechnics. Magalie Pilon, a doctoral student in physiology who was among those chosen for the jury from 550 applicants this year, was taking the job seriously. “This is a big party here,” she said as dance music thumped in the grandstands a few hours before the show. “But we have to concentrate because it’s important.”

“But if they wanted a professional jury they would have asked for it,” she said. “As a member of the public, I know I’m good.”

That confidence comes from having seen almost every display for the last six years. But she used to watch from the bridge, where her family had a special spot each week. As a jury member, she now has a prime seat for every show for herself — and for one guest.

“Let’s just say that now I am very popular,” she said. “I could ask for anything. Maybe I’ll ask for somebody to wash my car.”

THE grandstands offer certain advantages over the view from the bridge or the riverbanks. Many of the low effects can’t be seen from far off. And the shows are designed to look best from straight on.

Mr. Chouillier used plenty of low effects, starting with the fountains that, accompanied by the rumble of a rocket engine, seemed to simulate the launching of a Saturn V. Then it was on to “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” with exploding mines and other effects piercing the sky, choreographed to the piece’s famous kettledrum passages.

The “Star Trek” theme followed, with glittering showers of tiny stars looking for all the world like what Captain Kirk disintegrates into when Scotty beams him up.

There were brilliant flashes, head-throbbing bangs, huge groups of flares in red and green, chrysanthemums in red, white and yellow and, during passages from “Mars, the Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst, dozens of small green flares that seemed to dance on the water like little green men. More comets crisscrossed the sky in perfect time with the music. And at 30 minutes the whole thing ended in a barrage of pale gold-and-white shells, accompanied by more music from “Star Trek.” As the smoke drifted, the final sounds were heard: the five-tone alien signal from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Afterward the verdict among some of the veterans was that the show was probably not a trophy winner — that the choice of theme and music was a bit clichéd, that the effects weren’t startling enough, that the all-white finale, though elegant, lacked a certain drama.

But back at a makeshift beer hall where team members and others relaxed and discussed the show, Mr. Chouillier looked happy and relieved. “My big fear was that something would go wrong, and it didn’t,” he said.

And judging from the hoots and hollers in the grandstand, the show was a crowd pleaser.

“It’s the best we’ve ever seen,” said Mark Jeffries, a Floridian who with his family had come to Montreal to visit his mother. “There’s some fireworks we’ve never seen before.”

His 11-year-old daughter, Carlin, had no problem with the finale.

“In Florida they shoot off all of them,” she said. “They kind of overwhelm you. This was different. Just nice and white.”


L’International des Feux Loto-Québec continues every Saturday through Aug. 2 and on three Wednesdays — July 23 and 30 and the closing show, on Aug. 6. The countries represented include Australia, Austria, China, Italy, Portugal and South Korea; the United States entry’s show is on July 30. Fireworks begin at 10 p.m.

Grandstand tickets, which include all-day park admission, range from 44.90 to 56 Canadian dollars (about the same amount in American dollars) for people over 4-foot-6; it’s less for those under that height. After 5 p.m. tickets are about half price.

La Ronde is best reached by public transportation. The Papineau Métro station, on the Green Line, connects with the 169 bus, which goes to the park’s front gate. Alternatively, the Yellow Line stops in Parc Jean-Drapeau on the other side of the Île Ste-Hélène; it connects with the 167 bus to La Ronde, or a 15-minute walk will get you there (and you’ll pass the geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller for Expo 67; it now houses an environment museum). After the show, walking to the Yellow Line is the best way off the island.

Free places to watch the shows include the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which closes to traffic at 8 p.m.; the Old Port of Montreal; and around Boulevard René-Lévesque north of the bridge.

Fireworks expected to cost more next year

Reduced supply in China, fuel costs said to create ‘perfect storm' in industry
By Jason Morton Staff Writer Tuscaloo News

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 28, 2008 at 10:52 p.m.

The storm is occurring in China, the main supplier of fireworks to the U.S. Bruce Volensky, vice president of sales for Pyrotechnico, which does display fireworks shows, said he's not seen anything like it in his 20 years in the business.

'It's quite unusual,' Volensky said. 'It really is the perfect storm in the industry, as far as price is concerned.'

The fallout, Volensky said, is already beginning to manifest itself in small ways.

'Next year, possibly, the costs could go up dramatically,' he said. Volensky said prices could range from 30 percent to 50 percent higher.

China began decreasing its shipments of fireworks overseas in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing later this summer.

Then, about four months ago, an explosion in the Chinese port city of Sanshui destroyed 20 fireworks warehouses. The explosion rattled homes miles away and set off fireworks for more than 24 hours.

Add rising fuel costs — which increase shipping costs as well as the price of the chemicals used to launch the type of fireworks used by the large display fireworks companies — and the Chinese government's recent decision to stop subsidizing fireworks manufacturers, and the forecast points to smaller supplies and higher prices.

Tuscaloosa's fireworks spectacle planned for Friday at Sokol Park should not be affected, Volensky said. The company he works for is providing the fireworks for the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority's annual celebration.

The cost of the show will range between $18,000 and $20,000 — about $11,000 of that on the fireworks show alone — paid for primarily through sponsor donations.

But next year's fireworks display could be a scaled-back version.

'I don't think that would stop us from having it,' said Gary Minor, superintendent of recreation for PARA, 'but it could be possible that we would have to find more sponsors or pare back a little on the fireworks.'

Charging admission to view the show would be a last resort, he said.

'We've taken it on our shoulders to do this for the community,' Minor said. 'But unless [the price increase] really became extreme, we likely wouldn't do that.'

Pam Palmer, president of Fireworks of Alabama, which supplies about 100 fireworks stands in the state, said her company is also seeing price increases but does not think it will prove a serious problem to future supplies.

This year, though, she said people intending to buy fireworks for personal use should do so early.

'There is definitely a shortage in fireworks,' she said. 'We won't run out of fireworks, but we may run out of the type you want.'

The main reason is the cost of shipping, she said. Last year, a shipping crate full of fireworks cost $4,800 to ship from China. Today, that same shipment would cost $11,800.

Increases for individual fireworks, from Roman candles to bottle rockets, vary depending on the size of the product. She said consumers can expect to see fireworks going for 10 percent to 50 percent more per item than last year.

'The larger the items,' she said, 'the larger the price increase because they take up more space on the [shipping] container.'

Local stands, though, said they haven't seen any changes in the fireworks supply.

'We've got more than we ever had,' said Brad Hill, 31, of Brookwood, who operates the TNT Fireworks stand in Northport on Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard.

Hill said he's been operating fireworks stands for about four years now to benefit his church, Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Cottondale.

So has Erick Johnson, 35, of Cottondale. He said the proceeds from his stand, located on U.S. Highway 82 next to Wal-Mart in Northport, go toward The Sanctuary in Bessemer.

The friends were working together on Thursday to get Hill's stand stocked in time for the weekend's anticipated sales rush. Both men said they had seen no effects of the fireworks shortfall, except for some increased prices.

'But that's nothing new,' Hill said. 'They do that every other year, anyway.'

Reach Jason Morton at or 205-722-0510.

Will changes in China cause local fireworks shows to fizzle out?

By Mary Ann Ford

BLOOMINGTON -- This year’s fireworks should bring the usual “ohhhhs” and “ahhhhs,” but next year’s displays could be a dud.

Shipping problems and changes in China’s labor and safety laws not only are expected to limit the fireworks imported into the United States but likely will increase the price three-fold or more.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Neecy Vinyard, president and owner of S&N Fireworks of Lincoln. “Shipping costs went up 25 percent this year. We’re expecting a substantial increase in cost next year.”

In addition, Vinyard said, China is no longer exporting the larger fireworks that are used in displays at Bloomington’s Miller Park and Normal’s Fairview Park on the Fourth of July.

The Twin Cities are in the middle of a three-year contract with S&N so the municipalities are guaranteed fireworks through 2009. What kind of fireworks will be available remains to be seen.

“If we locked in for a three-year contract, it stays at that price,” Vinyard said.

That means the company will have to eat any increased costs, just like it did for the increased shipping costs this year. The shipping charges went up after the company had sent a catalog listing prices, Vinyard said.

Andy James, president of Mad Bomber Fireworks in Indiana, said problems started after a February explosion at a warehouse at a port in China. The warehouse had about 100,000 cases of fireworks waiting to be shipped out.

“When the explosion occurred, it sent off a knee-jerk reaction and other ports closed,” James said.

That caused a shipping bottleneck and prompted shipping costs to skyrocket, said Tom Thompson, vice president of Melrose Pyrotechnics. Melrose and Mad Bomber are among the companies the Twin Cities has considered as firework suppliers.

Thompson said China also has implemented new safety guidelines at the ports and new labor laws that affect fireworks factories. About 98 percent of the fireworks used in the United States come from China.

“There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved” before fireworks distributors in the United States know what will be available next year, Thompson said.

“The biggest issue is shipping,” he said. “The ports need to be open.”

Vinyard said because China is hosting the Summer Olympics Aug. 8-24, the country has banned the shipment of fireworks out of the country from July 1 through the end of the Olympics.

While that won’t affected S&N, Melrose or Mad Bomber — each company received the bulk of their 2008 order before the first of the year — it could affect other suppliers.

Vinyard said her company has received calls from some Missouri towns looking for fireworks. She’s also had calls from other firework distributors in the United States wanting to buy some of her supply.

James said his company had its 2008 order by last fall and has already started ordering for the future.

“We have three containers on the way now,” he said.

The company, located at a former ammunition plant, has ample storage available.

Thompson said even though prices are expected to increase significantly, he thinks fireworks still are a great bargain considering how many people are entertained at a fireworks display.

“We’ll always have fireworks,” he said.

What's new in neighborhood fireworks
Article Launched: 06/27/2008 06:32:58 PM PDT

Two major providers of firworks, TNT and Phantom Fireworks, have come up with 10 new state-approved items for this Fourth of July.

Retailing for $4.50 at TNT stands is Mighty Man, an ellipse-shaped fountain with red, green, blue and yellow stars, as well as crackles with a titanium additive that produces bright silver-white sparks.

Emitting from the hexagon-shaped Glittering Jewels ($20) from TNT are colorful fishes with red, green and blue stars and titanium crackles.

Pharaoh's Treasure ($20, TNT), one of the few trapezoidal fireworks on the market, offers white smoke and a red torch with titanium rain, sparks of purple, green and blue, and loud, crackling chrysanthemums to go with red and golden fishes.

The $22 Jack in the Hex from TNT has an unusual design of hexagons and triangles to suggest a sprung-up jack-in-the-box. It spews a series of stars, crackles, chrysanthemums and flowers in red, silver, yellow, blue, orange and white, plus titanium crackles and a strobe effect.

Hexagon-shaped Dancing Stars ($40) from TNT features a unique "darting" or "jumping" fish effect and stars, chrysanthemums and crackles of green, red, yellow, blue, silver and gold.

The largest newcomer from TNT this year is 3-Ring Circus ($50), a raucous fountain shaped like three interlocked cylinders, bursts with crackles, chrysanthemums and torches in eight colors.

Phantom has a noiseless fountain called Flying Stars Fountain. Retailing for $10, the colorful item features a fish effect.

Blooming Flower ($25) is a novelty from Phantom with whistling silver spray and six blossoming flower petals accompanied by red, green and blue flares and multi-effect crackle.

Rock Around the Clock ($20) from Phantom is a fountain that has a spinning hand clock. The fan effect emits bright silver showers followed by a three-stage whistle and more showers, finishing with a crackling gold chrysanthemum finale.

Solid-Fuel Rocket Booster ($30) from Phantom is packaged like it sounds; it emits red and white glitter, silver chrysanthemums, crackle and green-yellow and blue silk pearls.


Sales skyrocket at Pa. store
Monday, June 30, 2008
MORRISVILLE, Pa. -- They're firing off "motherloads" of fun for the whole family, or so the store brags.

Stationed less than a mile from the border of New Jersey, Sky King Fireworks resembles a pyrotechnic haven for out-of-staters who can legally purchase the explosives in Pennsylvania before sneaking them over state lines, where setting them off is a no-no.

Despite heightened criticism in recent years and proposed legislation to ban fireworks companies in Pennsylvania from selling to non-residents, business at Sky King appears to be booming.

"We're stocking up for this weekend and the Fourth," smiled Brendan Kinney, standing in a nearly packed Sky King parking lot on Pennsylvania Avenue. "They've got great deals here. You can get really powerful fireworks for not much money."

Kinney, 19, said he's a Pennsylvania resident. By law, he isn't allowed to purchase fireworks or shoot them off in his state. Waiting outside while his New Jersey friend purchased the goods, Kinney said he doesn't think setting off the devices is a big deal -- so long as people are safe.

"If you get hurt from fireworks, it's probably because it was your own fault," he said. "I can't tell you where we'll be setting ours off, but I can tell you it's going to be a good time."

Since Sky King opened in 2006, manager Joe Van has taken a lot of heat for selling the explosive wares.

A loophole in Pennsylvania law allows Van to only sell fireworks to out-of-state residents, including people from New York and New Jersey, where transporting or using the explosives is illegal. The loophole was created nearly four years ago when the Pennsylvania General Assembly modified a 1939 statute that allowed business to ship fireworks out of state.

Politicians have proposed rescinding those changes and local residents have voiced their own ire over what they say is an aggressive marketing approach toward young adults and children.

But that doesn't seem to bother Van, nor his customers.

"Independence Day without fireworks is like celebrating Christmas without Christmas trees or Thanksgiving without turkey," Van wrote in an e-mail. "There is nothing more strongly associated with the tradition of Independence Day than fireworks."

Weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, Sky King puts more gusto into advertising its array of fireworks, sending Garden State residents a 30-page brochure of the store's thousands of offerings, ranging from mortars and shells to larger explosives called "Fighting Force" and "Pyro's Playhouse."

Offering stock at buy-one-get-one deals, the brochure encourages patrons to "Tell 'em where you got it!"

But where -- and why -- people are "getting it" is exactly what irks some people who are annoyed by Sky King's advertisements.

"Sky King shamelessly markets to little kids and to people who aren't just looking for a picnic fireworks display," said former Hamilton, N.J., mayor Glen D. Gilmore. "The fireworks we saw in their store included many that were made to look like children's toys and others that had names boasting about their destructive power."

Federal law allows fireworks to contain 500 grams or more than a pound of pyrotechnic material.

Sky King offers consumer fireworks, meaning they contain more than 50 milligrams of explosive composition -- the material that makes fireworks go boom.

But before anyone can enter Sky King's doors, they first have to show an out-of-state identification or state-issued permit. They then have to sign a form stating transport to certain states is illegal.

Once granted access, patrons can walk among ceiling-high stacks of explosives and combo packages coined as "Loud and Rowdy" to "Crazy Exciting on Steroids."

Gilmore said these kinds of labels are enticing to kids, and has called for legislation to put Sky King out of business to New Jersey residents, "since what they're doing is encouraging people to break the law."

Pennsylvania Rep. John T. Galloway has attempted to nix the legislative loophole, so far to no avail.

Galloway, a Democrat representing a portion of Bucks County, introduced legislation in 2007 called the "Good Neighbor Bill" that would forbid stores to sell fireworks to out-of-state residents. The bill has sat idle for nearly a year, as it's still under review by the agriculture and rural affairs committee.

New Jersey State Police said they're beefing up patrols from Camden to Easton along the Delaware River where several fireworks stores have opened shop.

At this time last year, State Police arrested 28 people within two weeks for sneaking fireworks into New Jersey. Figures on arrests this year are not available.

State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones said efforts will continue this season to curb the transport of fireworks.

"Our patrols and details have been at the river crossings and that does include some undercover work," Jones said. Last week, he said, a man was arrested with $500 worth of explosives.

Van has argued since the store's opening that he's not breaking any laws, and cited national figures that show injuries resulting from fireworks are declining.

According to the American Pyrotechnic Association (APA), based in Maryland, consumption of fireworks has grown nationwide from 132.9 million pounds in 1997 to 265.6 million pounds last year.

Injuries across the country spiked to nearly 11,000 in 2005 but declined to 9,800 last year. Since 1992, injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used have dropped by 76 percent.

Julie Heckman, executive director of the APA, said her organization focuses on promoting fireworks safety.

Despite national media reports, which stated recent changes in federal fireworks laws have allowed the devices to contain more power, Heckman said the only changes to fireworks is the number of consumers.

"Over the past four years, we've seen unprecedented growth in the industry," Heckman said. "That has to do with newer kinds of fireworks that have really revolutionized backyard fireworks. And, at the same time, it's when more states started relaxing their laws."

The federal government did make its own standards more lenient in 1998 by allowing fireworks to contain 500 grams or more than a pound of pyrotechnic material. Heckman said these devices now make up 25 percent of industry sales.

Contact Lisa Rich at or (609) 989-5692.

© 2008 New Jersey On-Line LLC. All Rights Reserved

Prices for fireworks skyrocket

Sunday, June 29, 2008
Palm Beach Post

Fourth of July revelers rejoice: The sparklers are safe. The shows will go on.

A warehouse explosion in China prompted a slowdown in fireworks shipments, but the blast won't snuff out area celebrations. Despite national angst that a fireworks shortage could cancel community festivities and darken backyard parties, stores are stocked with bottle rockets and Roman candles. Cities say their fireworks spectaculars are ready to go.

Jordon Paniagua strolls the aisles at TNT Fireworks in West Palm Beach. The Big Bang package is on sale: Buy one at $799.99 and get another for just 99 cents. TNT ordered its fireworks before the warehouse explosions in China and is stocked for July 4.

Fireworks light up the sky during last year's Fourth of July celebration in Stuart. Despite the delay in fireworks shipments and the accompanying rise in cost, Jensen Beach based-Creative Fireworks said its Stuart event this year and its shows in Indiantown and Port St. Lucie are a go.

Mini Artillery Shell were $7.99 last year, but this year they're $10.99.

Pop-Its were 75 cents last year, but this year they're 99 cents.

Morning Glory was $6.99 last year, but this year its $7.99.

But that's not to say shoppers won't notice a difference in their pocketbooks as they grapple with spot shortages and higher prices for July 4 celebrations.

Brian Grummer, for instance, didn't have trouble filling up his cart at TNT Fireworks in West Palm Beach.

The 30-year-old from Greenacres is planning a trip with friends to Lake Placid, Fla., for the holiday weekend, so he went in search of "big, loud, aerial stuff."

"I like the big stuff," he said. "We should have a good show."

The tab for his stash of missiles, artillery shells, rockets, Roman candles, fountains and firecrackers: nearly $330.

"Folks can expect to dig a little deeper for their fireworks this year," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, a Bethesda, Md.-based trade group for the nation's $930 million fireworks industry.

In fact, pyrotechnics purveyors are facing their largest single-year price increase this July, with some companies pushing up prices as much as 30 percent, said William Weimer, vice president of B.J. Alan Co. in Youngstown, Ohio, which has Phantom Fireworks stores across the country, including 10 locations in Florida.

Phantom has increased prices about 15 percent this year, Weimer said. He points to several factors, including higher transportation costs, a weakened dollar and soaring inflation in China.

Nearly all of the nation's fireworks - both consumer and professional - are made in China.

The supply scramble started with an explosion in February that destroyed about 20 warehouses in the Chinese port city of Sanshui. The accident led to a ban on fireworks shipments at all Chinese ports except two, clogging the pipeline of both consumer and professional pyrotechnics to the U.S.

"It shut down our primary transportation route," Heckman said.

The U.S. government has been working with Chinese officials for months to resolve the transportation woes, she said. China's restrictions on fireworks production and shipping because of the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing added additional strain.

"That's not going to help us with July Fourth," she said. "If the product wasn't on the water weeks ago, it isn't going to get here on time."

Heckman estimated that 20 percent of the Fourth of July fireworks will not get here in time: "Everybody is short on something."

Most big chains stocked up early

Mom-and-pop retailers are hit hardest, which may mean fewer roadside tents. Most of the larger fireworks chains order months in advance and are stocked for the Independence Day rush.

Sky King, TNT and Phantom all have year-round locations in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, and many of the area fireworks tents are TNT vendors.

"Our orders were placed before Thanksgiving. Our merchandise was on its way here before the explosion," said Willie Micco, co-founder of Sky King, a Treasure Coast chain with 16 locations including Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Stuart and Port St. Lucie.

At the TNT Fireworks store in West Palm Beach, shelves are stacked to the ceiling with mortar kits, poppers and rockets. Prices, though, are up about $5 to $10 on several of the larger assortment packs and power-packed aerial fireworks, said manager William Taylor.

Some items have jumped more, such as the Mega Burst 13-piece assortment that was $140 and is now $170. The store couldn't get some items from Florence, Ala.-based TNT's catalogue this year, but sales still are rolling in, Taylor said.

Taylor estimates his average customer spends $100 for Fourth of July fireworks, but some buy by the cartload.

The Big Bang is a roughly 7-foot-tall box of fireworks that sells for $799.99, with a second one priced at 99 cents. This month, Taylor sold four in one day.

Most area events will take place

For the super-size community shows, the delay in fireworks shipments also is squeezing professional firms. Industry leaders say some cities might have to scale back or even cancel their fireworks displays this year.

But again, most of the city-sponsored shows in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are put on by larger firms that stocked early.

"All of our July displays will go on," said Ana Esturilho, manager of Zambelli Fireworks' Boca Raton office.

The New Castle, Pa.-based firm will produce 60 Fourth of July shows in Florida this year, Esturilho said, including West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Lake Worth, Wellington and Greenacres.

Brookhaven, N.Y.-based Fireworks by Grucci, which handles the Delray Beach and Boynton Beach shows, keeps a two-year inventory on hand, said producer Philip Butler. On the Treasure Coast, Jensen Beach-based Creative Fireworks said its shows for Stuart, Indiantown and Port St. Lucie are a go.

Most of Fourth of July celebrations will be unscathed, but fireworks retailers are already worrying about New Year's Eve festivities. And many fear shortages and price increases will be a larger problem in 2009.

"You may be paying 20 to 30 percent more and still not getting what you ordered," Micco said.

Fireworks Ban In Effect
Disaster Declaration Banning Usage In County Begins Tuesday

POSTED: 8:47 pm CDT June 23, 2008
UPDATED: 7:54 am CDT June 24, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- A disaster declaration by Bexar County went into effect Tuesday, effectively banning the use of fireworks except in specified safe zones.

Bexar County commissioners passed the declaration earlier this month, which banned the use of fireworks and the sale of specific types. The declaration follows continuing drought conditions as well as a lack of significant rain across the area.

Michael Girdley with Alamo Fireworks said he understands the situation and admits the subsequent ban is bad for business, but he believes the weather and sales will eventually bounce back.

There are 10 designated safe zones that will allow people to use their fireworks. The zones, staffed by volunteer firefighters and fireworks sales staff, will be prepared in advance of the July 4 holiday for use. Firefighters will use a controlled burn to eliminate any dry grass in the area and will later hose down the land just before the sites open to help prevent fires from igniting, according to a county press release.

The safe zones will be available on July 3 and 4 from 6 p.m. until midnight. A map of the fireworks safe zones can be seen here. (PDF file courtesy of Bexar County).

Nebraskans Travel to Missouri to Purchase Fireworks
Posted: 9:29 AM Jun 29, 2008
Last Updated: 6:32 PM Jun 29, 2008
Reporter: Nick Steffens

Some fireworks can be legally purchased in Nebraska, but with some on the banned list, Nebraskans are left looking elsewhere for the big booms.

For some, that means traveling to Missouri, a state that doesn't outlaw many of the fireworks Nebraska does.

Tyler Goodman, of Bellevue, travels to Watson, Mo., to purchase his fireworks.

"We find that we get a little bit of a bigger variety when we crosser the border," he said.

Goodman and a friend spent nearly $700 in just one visit to a fireworks stand in Watson.

But officials in Nebraska say what Goodman is doing is illegal.

According to John Falgione with the Nebraska Fire Marshal's office, any fireworks bought out-of-state and transported into Nebraska can be confiscated.

There is also a fine associated with transporting fireworks into Nebraska

Texas Forest Service Issues Warning On Use Of Fireworks In Rural Areas
By John Pape

With the Fourth of July holiday just around the corner, the Texas Forest Service is warning people to be cautious using fireworks in rural areas. Dry conditions across much of Texas can result in grass fires like the one that engulfed this car.
slideshow With most cities banning the discharge of fireworks, some people are going to rural areas to celebrate the Fourth of July.

That, however, may not be a good idea, according to the Texas Forest Service.

Despite recent rainfall, many rural areas continue to be extremely dry and there continues to be a high danger of wildfires. Even when caution is used, handling of fireworks can be dangerous, according to Tom Spencer, fire risk coordinator for the Texas Forest Service.

“It only takes a spark to start a wildfire,” Spencer said. “Fireworks, especially aerial fireworks, can be the source of that spark.”

Much of the state remains in drought and, as a result, the grasses have dried out and are easily ignited. Spencer recommended using fireworks well away from dry grass and other flammable vegetation. He recommended the following precautions be followed:

• Adhere to all county and city fireworks laws and restrictions.

• Use fireworks outdoors, away from dry grass and buildings.

• Follow label instructions on how to properly discharge fireworks.

• Only use fireworks with close adult supervision.

• Keep a bucket of water, wet towels and a garden hose nearby.

• Discard used fireworks; never try to relight them.

• Allow used fireworks to cool thoroughly before handling to avoid burn injuries.

The Texas Fire Service is urging people who want to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks to plan ahead and limit the use of fireworks to areas where accidental fire starts will not occur.

Better yet, make plans to attend a professional fireworks display.

“Everybody doing their part will make sure we all have a happy and safe Independence Day,” Spencer said.

Drought conditions delay sales of fireworks -Texas

Posted: June 23, 2008 09:53 PM
Updated: June 23, 2008 11:23 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) -- If you're looking to celebrate the Fourth of July with a bang, you can't run out and buy fireworks just yet.

You won't be able to get your hands on any fireworks until just days before the Fourth.

These sizzling days we have had over the past month are wreaking havoc on Fourth of July fireworks' sales.

Drought conditions across the state are delaying sales.

The Texas Pyrotechnic Association, the Texas Forest Service, along with emergency and fire officials, are voluntarily taking action by delaying sales one week.

It's a proactive way to limit the potential fire threat during this dry, hot season.

This will hit heavy in the pockets of those who sell fireworks, with 70 percent of the sales season eliminated.

The groups, however, said safety is a major concern.

So, you won't be able to buy firecrackers until July 1 in Bastrop, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties.

All content © Copyright 2000 - 2008 WorldNow and KXAN. All Rights Reserved.

How Safe, Sane? - California

How Safe, Sane?
Despite pleas by governor, fire officials, most fireworks stands open up

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.

Photos by CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat
Many nonprofit groups rely on the money raised by selling fireworks.

Dick Sharke

Petaluma drug task force director:

"If they'd go after these people with bottle rockets instead of giving them a slap on hand, we'd fare a lot better. I hate mass punishment."

Bruce Varner

Santa Rosa

fire chief and part of a group of fire officials strongly opposed to sales:

"We don't believe even so-called safe and sane fireworks belong in the hands of consumers."

Under skies darkened by smoke from some of the state's 1,345 wildfires, dozens of nonprofit groups began selling fireworks Saturday in parts of Sonoma County, ignoring pleas from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and local fire officials to suspend the practice this year.

Fireworks stands opened for business in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, with red, white and blue banners luring buyers to state-approved devices such as "Super Nova" and "Mad Dod Fountain," which shower sparks in the air. Sales could begin Tuesday in Cloverdale.

Kenny Calkins of Novato said Saturday he plans to spend the Fourth of July with his three sons lighting fireworks. He purchased $40 worth of legal pyrotechnics at a Rohnert Park stand in the Home Depot parking lot, saying it's a fun family tradition.

"It's a kid thing," Calkins said. "Everyone likes to do it."

Sellers said fireworks aren't to blame for the fires that have raged across Northern California the past week and say the profits from sales help pay for worthy programs.

"I feel very sad for the people that are being displaced in their homes," said Tim Mattis, past president of the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati, which opened a stand outside Home Depot. "But, if used correctly, our fireworks are a safe and sane way to celebrate the nation's birth and history."

With an explosion of fires sparked by lightning strikes last weekend and fueled by drought conditions, Schwarzenegger on Wednesday asked people not to buy fireworks this year, hoping to prevent the possibility of more fires and sparing crews battling blazes from Big Sur to the Oregon border.

Sonoma County fire officials echoed the concern, saying a lack of rain has created a combustible situation that will only worsen this summer.

In Cloverdale, blanketed by a thick haze from numerous fires in Lake and Mendocino counties, officials asked the Lions Club and Veterans of Foreign Wars to suspend sales. The two nonprofit groups agreed to postpone their opening until Tuesday, reducing the chances of a weekend mishap, said Capt. Al Delsid of the Cloverdale Fire District.

The City Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. to consider suspending the sales.

With most of its small department off fighting fires around the state and fire danger high on the homefront, the department is recommending no fireworks this year.

"Everybody is nervous about fires up north and we have a potential in our community," Delsid said. "Common sense would dictate it's not a good idea to sell fireworks."

The Fourth of July tradition has come under increasing scrutiny over the years for its potential to ignite a parched landscape.

Following extensive damage to a Santa Rosa home from a wildfire started by bottle rockets in 2003, voters banned fireworks altogether, joining four other cities and the unincorporated county in prohibiting their use or sale.

The association of county fire chiefs is strongly opposed to fireworks, but lobbying from the industry and from nonprofit groups that benefit from their sales has blocked bans in other cities.

"We don't believe even so-called safe-and-sane fireworks belong in the hands of consumers," said Santa Rosa Fire Chief Bruce Varner.

Petaluma Chief Chris Albertson's opposition to fireworks has been overruled by the City Council, which decided instead to restrict fireworks in certain fire-prone areas.

Albertson said nonprofit groups could find other ways to raise money. Fireworks are banned in all of Marin and Mendocino counties, where groups have found alternative fund-raising methods.

"I know you'd have to do a lot of car washes and bake sales, but other communities do it," he said. "The fact is, other communities have soccer and baseball. They seem to survive. They flourish."

Some nonprofit groups say they depend on fireworks sales as a major source of funding for programs that fill gaps left by overstretched public agencies.

Dick Sharke, executive director of Petaluma's McDowell Drug Task Force, said the $20,000 he raises each year pays for programs that teach teens about the perils of drinking and driving.

Rather than threatening his funding, authorities should be harder on people who use illegal fireworks, which are more dangerous, he said.

The proliferation of contraband fireworks ruins it for everyone, he said.

"If they'd go after these people with bottle rockets instead of giving them a slap on the hand, we'd fare a lot better," Sharke said. "I hate mass punishment."

In Cloverdale, Jim Pankey of the VFW said the $10,000 he gets from fireworks sales fills his coffers for a year. The group spends the money mostly on college scholarships.

However, Pankey conceded with the drought and growing concern about fire, the future of fireworks sales is shaky.

"I'm pretty sure this is the last year we will sell," Pankey said. "It just keeps getting worse each year."

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 762-7297 or


Chris Albertson

Petaluma fire chief says groups can find other ways to raise money:

"I know you'd have to do a lot of car washes and bake sales, but other communities do it."Tim Mattis

Ex-president of

the Rotary Club

of Rohnert Park- Cotati:

"If used correctly, our fireworks are a safe and sane way to celebrate the nation's birth and history."

Fireworks sales are skyrocketing before the Fourth

By John Basilesco
Staff Writer
Eagle Tribune

June 29, 2008 05:51 pm

National sales of backyard fireworks are booming, and that means big business in New Hampshire.

Sales are at an all-time high, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association. Last year, sales soared to $930 million nationwide, with backyard fireworks sales representing $620 million, up from $400 million in 2000.

This year, sales have been "a little quieter than usual," probably because of the economy, said Mary McCluskey, manager of Phantom Fireworks in Londonderry.

"But people still like their fireworks, and they are coming in to purchase them," she said.

Among her customers the other day was 38-year-old Dennis Cremin of Chester, who said he and his friends all chip in $100 to buy an assortment of fireworks that they set off on a beach in Massachusetts the night before the Fourth of July.

Fireworks are legal in New Hampshire, but not in Massachusetts.

"It's pretty much a tradition," he said. "The place where we go to set them off, I've been going to since I was about 5 years old."

He said he continues to enjoy setting off fireworks with his boyhood friends, now adults with families who participate in the annual Fourth of July celebration.

Others shopping for fireworks at Phantom included Dimitri Panacopoulas and his girlfriend, Emily Myers, of Londonderry.

"We're already starting on another cart," Myers said after they loaded up their first shopping carriage with two huge boxes of fireworks.

"We're going to be going to town," Panacopoulas said of this year's planned July Fourth celebration, which always involves consumer fireworks.

"We enjoy the celebration and having everyone get together," he said. "It's an annual tradition. It's just friends and family."

Having a celebration at a friend's house also beats traveling to a professional display, Panacopoulas and Myers said, because that involves fighting traffic and putting up with large crowds.

Michael Clark of Washington agreed. He made the 21/2-hour round trip to buy an assortment of fireworks at Phantom Fireworks in Londonderry Wednesday afternoon.

Clark said he hates going to professional fireworks displays, but loves having his own.

"You're fighting traffic to get to the display," he said, "and you have to arrive three hours ahead of time to even find a parking space. At the end, it's all smoky — you don't know where your car is."

While consumer fireworks are illegal throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire communities have the option of banning them or allowing them with some restrictions, including a permit.

Windham, Salem and Derry don't allow fireworks. But people still use them, especially around the Fourth of July, Windham police Chief Gerald Lewis said.

Officers use their discretion when they respond to a fireworks complaint, he said. If the amount of backyard fireworks is small and no one has been hurt, typically the officer will confiscate the fireworks and issue a warning. But if it involves a repeat offender, an injury or a large amount fireworks, then the violator would most likely be arrested, Lewis said.

Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said police there take violators to court.

Some towns, including Hampstead and Pelham, require residents to get a permit to use fireworks on their property.

But Pelham fire Chief Michael Walker said he's only aware of two permits that are sought and issued each year. One is for a resident who holds an annual Fourth of July party. Anyone else using fireworks does not have the necessary permit, Walker said.

"I can hear them from my house," Walker said. "But you can't catch everybody. It's analogous to catching people who are speeding. We certainly frown on it. It's not tolerated, and police respond to fireworks complaints and take legal action."

Walker said there several dangers associated with consumer fireworks, including fireworks that don't explode after the fuse is lit. This can lead to serious burns and other injuries if someone picks it up and it explodes in their hand, he said.

Backyard fireworks can also spark brush or building fires.

New Hampshire state Fire Marshal Bill Degnan urges anyone planning to celebrate the July Fourth holiday with home fireworks to use extreme caution and to keep fireworks out of the hands of children.

"Fireworks are explosive devices," Degnan said. "They can cause serious injury if misused or handled carelessly. They should only be handled by responsible adults."

For many Americans, fireworks have become a way of life during the holidays — beautifully colored sparks flying through the air with loud rumbling explosions. But people often forget that they are playing with explosives, dangerous chemicals and combustibles that can destroy property and injure people, Degnan said. They throw hot sparks through the air and can reach temperatures hotter than 1,200 degrees, he said.

William Weimer, a vice president of Phantom Fireworks, said manufacturing improvements and closer government control have made today's consumer fireworks much safer than they once were.

While sales figures have been soaring, the total number of injuries from fireworks has been dropping, Weimer said.

Weimer said while sales tripled from 1992 to 2006, injuries dropped over that same period from 12,500 in 1992 to 9,200 in 2006.

Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.


Dennis Cremin of Chester looks through the Phantom Fireworks trying to decide what he wants this year. Cremin and a group of his friends each spend a bit of money and get together every year to light them off on July Fourth. Staff photo

No new fireworks inspector until after July 4

Article published Jun 27, 2008 in New Hampshire Business Review

In its last session, the Legislature passed, and Governor Lynch recently signed into law, a measure enabling the state fire marshal better crack down on the sale of illegal fireworks. But even though the law went into effect immediately, it won’t make much difference in the days leading up to this coming July Fourth.

The law, which was passed May 14 and signed on June 11, increases licensing fees from $40 to $100 for those transporting fireworks and imposes a new fee of up to $250 for those engaged in indoor displays or explosives. The money would be used to hire a year-round fireworks inspector.

Stephen Pelkey, CEO of Jaffrey-based Atlas PyroVision Productions -- the largest fireworks company in the state -- said he doesn’t mind the fees, or the new notice requirements of 72 hours before a fireworks show. He said his firm wanted to make sure that illegal fireworks – ranging from cherry bombs to rockets – not be sold.

“We want to protect legitimate businesses by responding to those who do not play by the rules,” he said.

But state lawmakers simply acted too late to hire someone in time for this year’s July Fourth displays, said John Raymond, assistant director at the state fire marshal’s office. To hire someone for a new position, the fire marshal will have to go through the Department of Administrative Services Personnel Division, meaning the best he could expect would be to hire someone at the end of the July.

“I was hoping to have someone on board, but that’s how things happen in Concord,” he said.

The fireworks inspector’s job involves more than inspections. He or she would educate store owners on what can be legally sold and increase awareness in the general public.

Meanwhile, those selling illegal fireworks shouldn’t think no one is out there.

“I’ve got fire inspectors out there, walking through stores, seeing what they are selling. A lot of storeowners are being inspected today, and they don’t even know it,” Raymond said. – BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

© 2007, New Hampshire Business Review, Manchester, New Hampshire

Bombshells, flashy names sell fireworks

Posted on Sun, Jun. 29, 2008
Kansas City Star (
The Kansas City Star
Who says you can’t buy Happiness?

Turns out, Eternal Damnation and Eternal Absolution are for sale, too.

As for Happiness? It’s for sale at places like Riverside Red X Fireworks right now. With names like Blonde Joke, Explodimus Maximus, Crazy Exciting on Steroids and Gates of Hell, fireworks distributors have ramped up marketing of their products to appeal even more to mankind’s most primal desires: sex and blowing stuff up.

Walk into stores like Pyro City that are open year-round in Missouri or one of the numerous tent stands popping up throughout the metro area and you’re likely to see why. Local distributors said the selection of fireworks — easily more than 500 products at many places — has increased so much in recent years that the packaging needs to stand out.

Few vendors will deny that sexy packaging appeals to buyers. Sometimes that means adding busty babes in camouflage to the label or going a step further. On the Internet, you can find fireworks that sound more like titles of porn movies: The Big O, Vixens From Venus and The Girls Next Door. Other labels simply give shoppers a hearty laugh that encourages them to throw another item in their cart.

Just as casual drinkers sometimes pick wine by oddball labels, fireworks distributors understand that Hicktown Heaven, Totally Jacked, The Big No-No, Cooking With Gas and Self-Destruction might stand out to certain shoppers.

The catchy, goofy and titillating titles appeal to even the most traditional shoppers.

When Richard Tomlinson and his mother, Kathy Tomlinson, walked into a fireworks stand recently, they had planned to avoid the gimmicks and glitzy advertising. They picked up established products as planned, but even they couldn’t resist Break Out. The jailbird theme was perfect for a relative who works at a local jail.

And so the young man and his mother left with one more package that they didn’t expect to buy.

It’s a delight for marketers eager to appeal to consumers of all varieties. History lovers can delight in Invasion of Normandy, Battle of Yorktown and Boston Tea Party. Some might be drawn to Uncle Sam’s Answer or Shock & Awe. Others might prefer Smoke-n-Mirrors. If you don’t like One Bad Mother, maybe vendors will persuade you to buy One Bad Mother-In-Law.

“It’s so much better than it used to be,” said Riverside Red X Fireworks owner Zeke Young as he talked about the vast selection.

So who chooses names like Death Wish, Evil Clown, Rehab and Bad Mutha Trucka?

Sometimes it’s the Chinese officials working in the manufacturing plants. Other times it’s American importers.

Winco Fireworks, an importer based in Lone Jack, puts a big emphasis on product names. Winco employees regularly visit China to look for new products. When they return, a committee sits down to dream up names.

“In our case, we have a complete product development team, and they go around and brainstorm ideas and come up with pretty cool names,” said Mike Collar, president of Winco.

“We also try to make sure that the name fits.”

When the committee adjourns, Collar and others have the final say. A recent winner was Summer Storms, which includes Microburst and Thunderstorm. Other times, names are rejected outright and Collar wonders: “What in the heck were you guys thinking? That’s stupid.”

Around town, vendors are eager to point out Blonde Joke, a package swathed with pictures of provocative, tanned bombshells. Vendors agree that the name makes absolutely no sense. Collar said his committee probably wouldn’t have approved, but he sells the product nonetheless.

“I’ve got several blondes that work for me, so I’d be in big trouble,” he said jokingly.

But something curious has happened with the product. Buyers pick it up as a joke the first year. But customers discover the buxom blondes are no joke — the product performs well, and buyers ask for it by name the next year, Collar and several other vendors said.

Collar said he rarely gets complaints from customers. And when he does, it’s usually not about sex appeal. It’s often religious-minded customers annoyed by names that invoke the devil. Collar is respectful of their beliefs and guides them to another product.

Perhaps they would prefer Pure Heaven or Nirvana.

Ultimately, most consumers simply want the fireworks to be loud, flashy and spectacular.

So if Nuclear Meltdown, Revenge or Waking the Deaf isn’t for you, perhaps just being a Proud American on Independence Day is satisfying enough.

Shipping woes cut Chinese fireworks exports

By WILLIAM FOREMAN – 11 hours ago (Associated Press)

LIUYANG, China (AP) — Chen Tiezhong will likely spend the Fourth of July worrying about the future of his sprawling fireworks factory. China, where fireworks were invented, is running short of ports from which to ship the dangerous cargoes abroad.

China's fireworks industry provides 98 percent of America's overall needs, and 80 percent of the pyrotechnics needed for professional displays. But the U.S. fireworks business stands to lose $25 million to $30 million this year because of lost orders, says Julie Heckman, executive director for the American Pyrotechnics Association.

A Missouri firm says it backed out of some shows because of the shortage. Meanwhile, some Chinese factories are being pushed close to bankruptcy.

"Our factory will be forced to close, whether we want it or not," said Chen Tiezhong at his sprawling 500-employee operation in Liuyang in central Hunan province.

His factory is one of 900 around this small city that is known as China's fireworks capital. A traffic circle features a massive metal sculpture of rockets soaring and bursting into flower-like shapes. The Chinese word for fireworks is "yanhua" or "smoke flowers."

Most of the factories are far from town, tucked safely away among the farms in surrounding hills and valleys.

Chen rattles off a litany of woes: micro-thin profit margins, rising labor costs and soaring prices for raw materials.

Now, the closure of some Chinese ports to fireworks may be the final straw.

In February, a blast at a fireworks warehouse led to a ban on fireworks shipments at the southern port of Sanshui, Guangdong province, which previously handled 20 percent of China's pyrotechnic exports.

Then, in late March, officials stopped fireworks shipments at Nanshan, another Guangdong port, after inspectors found explosives that had been declared as something else.

Guangdong may not allow fireworks shipments to resume, because the province is trying to shift its economy to more sophisticated goods.

Adding to the industry's woes, China has ordered major ports such as Shanghai and Hong Kong to suspend shipments of explosives as part of tightened security ahead of August's Beijing Olympics.

"It's been extremely difficult," Chen said. "There is simply no way out even if we're willing to pay 10,000 yuan RMB (more than $1,400) extra for each container."

In China, 30 to 40 percent of fireworks for overseas customers have not shipped, forcing many of the country's 7,000 factories to curtail or even stop taking overseas orders, said Liu Donghui, the secretary-general of China-based International Fireworks Association.

On the U.S. end, 10 percent to 15 percent of orders didn't show up, said Heckman.

China ordinarily sends 9,000 shipping containers of fireworks a year to the U.S., she said, and the shortfall "is by far the most difficult challenge the U.S. firework industry has had to face."

Matt Sutcliffe of Premier Pyrotechnics, Inc. in Richland, Mo., realized six weeks ago that he would run short and have to cancel some shows. He said he contacted every company he knew to pick up the slack, but "No company that I talked to said they could take additional shows."

Heckman said this year's shortage would probably go largely unnoticed by Independence Day spectators because retailers and pyrotechnicians will be sharing their stockpiles.

"As competitive as this industry is, we bleed red, white and blue, and we'll do anything to try to make certain each community gets their Fourth of July Independence Day show," she said.

Liuyang's factories alone produced $1 billion worth of fireworks last year, some $430 million of it to meet overseas orders, the association's Liu said.

Chen's Southern Fireworks Manufacture Co. includes a cluster of long single-story concrete buildings. Inside, women sitting at concrete tables paste together rocket tubes with labels in Russian. Some stick fuses into loaded fireworks and bind them together.

Most of the work is done by hand because machines can overheat or throw sparks, Chen said.

Red strips of paper glued to each building door carry a Buddhist inscription for good luck.

"It's getting harder and harder to find people who will do this work," said Chen. "They think it's too dangerous. They can find work in other factories that don't deal with explosives."

The most dangerous job is loading the gunpowder. This work is done in 130 small concrete buildings, little bunkers scattered around the site or partially dug into hillsides.

"Only one person works in each structure," Chen said. "If there's an explosion, there will be little or no damage to the surrounding buildings and workers."

At Jinlian Fireworks Manufacturing and Export Co., also in Liuyang, U.S. sales once accounted for one-third of the business, but that's going to change. "We are not taking overseas orders," said Song Wei, a manager. "We dare not."

Only one shipping company, Denmark-based AP Moeller-Maersk, is willing to transport fireworks used in U.S. shows.

The shipping problems are likely to hit hardest at smaller makers, and this may be the government's intention. It's often the small companies that embarrass the country by employing children, polluting or producing shoddy goods.

But Chen said he can't imagine the government allowing so many businesses to collapse in an industry with centuries-old roots in Chinese culture, and put so many people out of work.

"If we're not making fireworks," he said, "we'll have nothing to eat."

Editorial assistant Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Monday, June 23, 2008

New export procedures for fireworks shipments ex-Shanghai

Last week, Shanghai CIQ announced that all fireworks containers leaving Shanghai port must be surveyed and sealed by respective local CIQ authorities at place of loading. This announcement came just before it was announced that Shanghai would stop all fireworks shipments from 1st July 2008.

Under the new requirements, containers must be surveyed by CIQ authorities in a CIQ-authorised facility, all documents must be checked to comply with export documentation and container closed with CIQ seal.

At the moment it is unclear how various CIQ offices in Hunan and Jiangxi will set up their inspection systems to facilitate containers being exported from Shanghai. Since Shanghai has stopped accepting fireworks containers as of July 1st, it probably will not be known until the next few months.

Shanghai port closes earlier from 1st July to 31st August 2008 for fireworks shipments

Over the weekend, we received confirmation that Shanghai port will stop accepting fireworks shipments from 1st July to 31st August. This will have an immediate effect on all fireworks shipments planned from Shanghai. This announcement came at very short notice as previously, we were all informed that Shanghai port would close from July 20th to August 31st.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oil Shocker

We thought this was an interesting article about the rising cost of transport. Current freight rates for a 40' fireworks container to European Mainports are now nearing US$10,000

Stung by Soaring Transport Costs,
Factories Bring Jobs Home Again
Wall Street Journal
June 13, 2008; Page A1

The rising cost of shipping everything from industrial-pump parts to lawn-mower batteries to living-room sofas is forcing some manufacturers to bring production back to North America and freeze plans to send even more work overseas.

"My cost of getting a shipping container here from China just keeps going up -- and I don't see any end in sight," says Claude Hayes, president of the retail heating division at DESA LLC. He says that cost has jumped about 15%, to about $5,300, since January and is set to increase again next month to $5,600.


• The News: Soaring fuel prices are prompting some U.S. companies to bring overseas production back closer to home.
• The Background: Higher oil prices are part of a larger wave of inflation hitting manufacturers in low-cost countries as wages rise and regulations tighten.
• What's Next: Don't look for U.S. factory jobs to soar, but the bleeding could slow. Mexico may be the biggest beneficiary.The privately held company, known for making the heaters that warm football players on the sidelines, recently moved most of its production back to Bowling Green, Ky., from China. Mr. Hayes says the company was lucky to have held onto its manufacturing machinery. "What looked like an albatross a year and a half ago," he says, "today looks like a pretty good asset."

The movement of factories to low-cost countries further and further away has been a bittersweet three-decade-long story for the U.S. economy, knocking workers out of good-paying manufacturing jobs even as it drove down the price of goods for consumers. But, after exploding over the past 10 years, that march has been slowing.

The cost of shipping a standard, 40-foot container from Asia to the East Coast has already tripled since 2000 and will double again as oil prices head toward $200 a barrel, says Jeff Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets in Toronto. He estimates transportation costs are now the equivalent of a 9% tariff on goods coming into U.S. ports, compared with the equivalent of only 3% when oil was selling for $20a barrel in 2000.

"In a world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money," Mr. Rubin wrote in a recent report. He figures that for every 10% increase in the distance of a trip, energy costs rise 4.5%.

Transportation costs are just part of a larger wave of inflation sweeping global manufacturing, which has also been pounded by higher costs for basic materials, such as steel and resins.

The cost of doing business in China in particular has grown steadily as workers there demand higher wages and the government enforces tougher environmental and other controls. China's currency has also appreciated against the dollar -- though not as much as some critics contend it should -- increasing the cost of its products in the U.S.

Edward Zaninelli, vice president of trans-Pacific westbound trade at Orient Overseas Container Lines in San Ramon, Calif., a major shipping line, says he's heard from customers who are moving production back to the U.S., including a maker of steel pans for car engines.

"I believe a decent amount of production could come back into the States within five years, not everything," he says. "But it won't be because of transport costs -- it'll be because other production costs have gone up and companies have realized they can have better control over their production when it's closer to home."

For many manufacturers, though, oil prices that have hurtled past $130 a barrel have been the tipping point.

Emerson, the St. Louis-based maker of electrical equipment, recently shifted some production of items such as appliance motors from Asia to Mexico and the U.S., in part to offset rising transportation costs by being closer to customers in North America.

Edward Monser, the company's chief operating officer, says logistics costs, which include all the expenses associated with moving goods, became a worry about a year ago.

"That's when it became a dominant part of the discussion," he says, adding that oil then was less than $100 a barrel. "So with oil now at $130, it's even more serious." Mr. Monser says Emerson's larger strategy is to regionalize manufacturing, producing as much as possible within the part of the world where its sold.

But moving production closer to markets won't avoid all the problems associated with rising transportation costs. Manufacturers face hefty surcharges on domestic shipments by truck and train. And already congested domestic transportation systems may have difficulty handling a sudden upswing in demand from manufacturers buying and moving more raw materials and other supplies over U.S. rails and highways.

Moreover, in certain industries the advantages derived from offshore production continue to trump higher transportation costs.

Electronics firms, for instance, are now clustered in Asia and gain a major benefit of proximity to one another.

While many manufacturers are re-evaluating production strategies, there are limits to how many jobs will flow back to the U.S. One problem is that much of the basic infrastructure needed to support many industries -- such as suppliers who specialize in producing parts or repairing machines -- has dwindled or disappeared.

U.S. job losses in manufacturing have averaged 41,000 a month so far this year -- nearly double the pace last year, with sectors such as autos and construction materials tied to the housing slump especially hard hit. In essence, every job added as a result of companies pulling work back home is being more than offset by others reeling from the domestic slump.

Higher fuel costs "may slow the outsourcing of goods in the future, rather than causing a massive shift back of those things that have already been outsourced," says Daniel Meckstroth, an economist at the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI, a public policy group in Arlington, Va.

A prime example is Craftmaster Furniture in Taylorsville, N.C. The company, bought two years ago by a Chinese manufacturer, once intended to shift 40% of its U.S. production to China by the end of this year or early next year. With the planned move only about half done, that exodus has stopped cold.

"We're getting hit with increases up and down the system," says Roy Kalcain, the company's president. "It's changing our whole equation for where we produce." As recently as a year ago, Mr. Kalcain says he was saving 15% when he assembled sofas in North Carolina using kits of fabric that were pre-cut in China. Those savings are now only 7% or 8%.

When savings fall to far less than 15%, it gets harder to justify having the work done in distant Chinese factories that take 12 weeks to deliver products.

The higher costs are particularly problematic for lower-value goods: The cheaper a product, the more significant transportation costs are in the final price. That may help explain why Chinese exports of such "freight-sensitive" goods to the U.S. are now falling for the first time in more than a decade, according to CIBC's Mr. Rubin.

Bremen Castings Inc., a family-owned foundry in Bremen, Ind., is seeing a wave of customers bringing work back from China and other low-cost countries.

Last month, a pump manufacturer, which had moved more than $1 million worth of metal-casting work from Bremen to China two years ago, called "to reactivate everything," says J.B. Brown, the foundry's president. "They told me the cost of transport from overseas was the straw that broke the camel's back -- and they said they didn't see it going back down any time soon."

And the heavier and bulkier goods are, the more sensitive they are to fuel costs. CIBC's Mr. Rubin predicts Mexico will be "the biggest winner of all" as increased transportation costs make China uncompetitive in an ever-growing list of businesses in North America. Even Mexico may be too far for some companies.

Last fall, Crown Battery Manufacturing Co. decided to close a plant it bought in Reynosa, Mexico, and move the jobs to its Ohio home base, adding 25 workers to the 400 it already employed.

"We're shipping batteries, which are big and heavy," says Hal Hawk, the company's chief executive.

Mr. Hawk estimates shipping to customers, who tend to be clustered in the Midwest, was adding 5% to 10% to the cost of the Mexican-made batteries, which he says also suffered from quality-control problems. The smallest batteries are 20-pounders for lawnmowers, but they also make 29,000-pound giants for running underground mining machines in places like southern Illinois.

"They were traveling 2,000 miles to get to those major customers," says Mr. Hawk, and all indications are that fuel surcharges on the trucks would just keep growing.

-- Conor Dougherty

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cable release from the Ministry of Communication (MOC) 交通部 - 交水明电(2008)0611号

Since the two fireworks explosion early of the year, some of the ports have withdrawn from the business of transportation of fireworks. As a result, export of fireworks was limited and caused a backlog of cargo. Not only does it affect the normal fireworks production and non fulfillment of export contracts, it also create a safety issue. Even though the port of Beihai and Shanghai have worked hard to expand their capacity, there are still over 5,000 containers being held up at place of production waiting to be transported. The fireworks manufacturers and their local government representatives and the importers have requested in person, and by letters to improve the channel of shipping fireworks.

In order to lessen the tension of exportation of fireworks and the stock pileup, to maintain our image of export country, and to support the economic growth of the fireworks production area, the Ministry of Communication (MOC) has fully studied the issue and with the approval of “Ministry of Supervisor Board in Safety Production” (国家安全生产监督管理总局) hereby given a notice of emergency expand the fireworks export channel is given to the department concern for their study and implementation.

1. “Ordinance of safety transportation of fireworks” has set forth all the rules and regulations regarding the transportation of fireworks over water. Simply losing down the transportation channel is not the right way to solve the problem. Instead it might create greater safety issue due to increasing false decoration. All transportation and port authorities in all levels should fully study the ordinance and make use of it rules to strongly govern the safety issue, and to steamline the transportation of fireworks in the safest manner.

2. Presently, the shipping season for USA is approaching the end very soon (high shipping season for USA is March to early June, and for Europe is August and September). We ask that the port of Beihai and Shanghai, upon fulfillment of all safety regulations, to arrange the shipment to USA with priority.

3. As an emergency measure, we ask that the port authority of Ningbo, Shenzhen and Guangzhou to study with the industry that manage the container terminal, the possibility of opening the Ningbo Port, the Yintian Port (of Shenzhen), and the NanSha Port (of Guangzhou) in near future as an emergency exit of fireworks. Please report the process of such suggestion to the department.

4. In order to strengthen from the production source to ensure the safety in transportation, we ask that the concerning governing department, the export and transportation industries from all production areas to do their best to use the shortest route in transportation and to minimize the transshipment process. The Port authority and the port facility should take initiative to contact with the governing department in the fireworks area, the industries of fireworks production, trading and logistic, together with the Customs, CIQ and Marine Department; to further study the possibility of loading into containers, custom clearing, CIQ supervision and sealing of containers a the place of production.

5. Port authority needs to strengthen their knowledge of the important aspects such as the container loading, custom clearance, transportation, warehousing of fireworks. Also to inspect and supervise the relating industries to follow the rules and procedure while working in stacking, separation, inspection and transportation to vessel, of all loaded containers. More frequent inspection to the containers declared as general merchandise to eliminate the possibility of false declaration in order to smuggle fireworks with general merchandise, and to heavily penalize such active. Container yard should operate the fireworks loaded containers following the regulations as published by the transportation standard under “safety operation of containers with dangerous goods” (JT397-2007).

6. Transportation of fireworks over water is cost effective and safer, and such advantage should be fully utilized. We encourage the transportation and related departments in Hunan and Jiangxi to quickly study the opening of river ports in cities of Changsha, Zhuzhou, Xiangtan and Nanchang, nearby the production area, to start the industry of shipping fireworks. The port authority of Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu should cooperate and upgrade their facility to prepare for a better operation of transshipment of fireworks.

Marine Department of the Ministry of Communication, safety transportation department is liaison office of this notice. Contact person: Chen, Zheng Cai, 陳正才 Tel. 010-65292225, fax. 010-65292638, e-mail.

Dated: May 30th, 2008.