June 19,  2008

Hatteras villages get ready for the July 4 fireworks displays


It’s Wednesday morning, Fourth of July, 2007, and Avon’s shoreline looks like a postcard. The ocean is that clear green color that’s more appropriate on a Caribbean Island, the breeze is kicking just enough to be refreshing, and hundreds of happy locals and visitors are enjoying a well-deserved day on the beach with a good book and a cooler of beer.

This clichéd but lovely scene is lost, however, on the volunteers of KATO (Kinnakeet Aerial Tapestry Organization) who are congregating in the parking lot of Dirty Dick’s. They’re waiting to begin a long, hot day of running boxes up and down the length of the pier, connecting wires and fuses, and handling enough explosives to blow up the pier house -- or at least remove a limb or two.

The annual fireworks celebration in both Hatteras village and Avon is an unspoiled tradition that’s organized and instrumented by small groups of local volunteers. Launched over the ocean, the fireworks displays in both villages attracts thousands of visitors every year to enjoy a unique Independence Day on the sand and under the stars, adding a much needed boost to tourism during the July 4 week.

Hatteras Fireworks

Hatteras Village Civic Association president Ricki Shepherd oversees the annual Hatteras display. Funds are raised through the annual Surf Fishing Tournament in September and the Hatteras Village Offshore Open in May.

“We distribute the money towards the fireworks and other local causes, like scholarships for village residents,” explains Shepherd.

In previous years, the launching of the fireworks was handled by the Hatteras Village Fire Department, but this year’s event will be launched by the company Master Display, which also provides the fireworks.
“Perhaps next year the guys will ask to do it again, but we thought it would be nice if they had a chance to enjoy the show with their families,” Shepherd says.

The fireworks will be launched from Ramp 55 at dusk in order to give vehicles a chance to exit the beach before 10 p.m., and the current beach access closures will have no bearing on the Hatteras display. In fact, the best spot to see the fireworks is pretty much anywhere in Hatteras village, whether it’s on the beach, from a breezy back porch, or from a boat offshore. Everyone in the Hatteras area will simply have to look up to see the sparks fly.

“It all depends how close you want to be to the big booms,” Shepherd says.

Avon Fireworks

Coordinator Kenny Brite has been the driving force behind the annual fundraising and launching of the Avon fireworks since they began in 1998. During a conversation with his friend Page Lewis about the 1997 Hatteras fireworks display and the congested ride back to Avon, both parties started to wonder why Avon didn’t have its own display. 

“I casually mentioned that if she would raise the money I would shoot the show,” says Brite. “Page held me to my statement, and the Avon July Fourth Fireworks show began.”

Avon’s first display had 684 bombs total, with 300 reserved for the grand finale. Ten years later, this year’s display will have 830 bombs total, with 350 for the finale.

The process of setting up a few hundred bombs is an arduous one, but it runs like clockwork. Brite and Warren “Tater” Gaskins III, both trained and certified to handle and light the large explosives, purchase the fireworks for the upcoming celebration. The night before the event, a small team of volunteers set up the racks (resembling large wooden crates), and 120 mortars, the fiberglass tubes that will hold the bombs at the end of the Avon pier. The next day, the same group, plus a few extra tag-alongs, meets at the pier to set up the bombs and the wiring.

The process takes the better part of a day, and with such large quantities of explosives, the potential for an accident before, during, and after the show is substantial, but since the first event Avon has been accident free.

“The training we receive teaches us what to do, and what not to do,” explains Brite. “The first three years we ‘hand lit’ the fireworks with a road flare taped to a broom handle. Being in such close proximity to the bomb leaving the mortar increases the accident potential. We now light the show electrically from 150 feet away. Firing the show electrically requires much more set up time, and different equipment.

 “After the finale, you may see a few bombs lit. We hand light the fireworks that don’t go up during the show. It is much safer to light the ones left over than to take them out of the mortars. There is potential for a ‘slow fuse,’ known as a hang fire, to catch at any time. We wait 30 minutes or so after the finale to approach the display area, just in case.”

The initial clearing of the area is done only by Kenny and Tater, and once the area is deemed safe, the rest of the clean-up crew arrives to get the Avon Pier back to normal in time for the next early morning pier fishermen.

Other safety factors could potentially arise. For instance, a lightning strike in the area could cause the whole show to go off at once. Also, the fireworks display can be set only off in winds less than 20 mph, but Brite and his crew have not run into any major issues, either manmade or initiated by Mother Nature.

In fact, the real concern with Avon’s fireworks display is not the mechanics of safety and set-up, but raising the money to fund the show in the first place. The annual display is completely dependent on the donations of businesses, homeowners, and rental guests.

“It is very simple,” Brite says. “Without donations there will be no fireworks.”

The cost of the show is surprising. The contract with Pyro Shows is $14,000, and other expenses including permits, storage, etc., run at least $3,500. In essence, every year a minimum of $17,500 is required for the show to make it off the ground.

In addition to the 12 to 15 volunteers for the display itself, Kenny and a team of three representatives from Outer Beaches Realty, Surf or Sound Realty, and Hatteras Realty help collect the donations and get the word out to homeowners and rental guests that their contributions are needed. The companies make a substantial annual contribution to Avon’s display as well.  

“We send donation requests to the rental property owners and rental guests. The response in the past has been very good. This year, these donations are down approximately 15 percent,” Brite says.
In response, the Avon Property Owners Association has stepped up with an increased donation, and even with just a couple short weeks before showtime, the fundraising team is optimistic that additional donations to fund the show will roll in and eliminate the deficit.

Preparations for Avon’s next show essentially start on July 5, when the committee takes stock of the funds and estimates a game plan for next year. The process begins again.

The months of gathering donations, and the long hot hours of preparation on July 4 can take its toll on Kenny Brite, the KATO committee, and all the locals and volunteers behind both the Avon and Hatteras village displays.

But for a an hour or so on the evening of the Fourth of July, the hard work of Avon and Hatteras village’s resident bomb enthusiasts pays off, and anyone can sit back on a sand dune, look up at the sky, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

If you want to donate

If you would like to make a donation to the Avon fireworks display, checks may be made out to NIDCCA (National Independence Day Committee of Avon) PO Box 376, Avon, NC 27915.


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