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In the Pipeline: At least we still have the big show

Driving around Garden Grove, Anaheim and Westminster, I could not help but notice the dozens of fireworks stands set up in advance of the Fourth of July.

I also could not help but wonder why Huntington Beach no longer allows these "safe and sane" fireworks.

As I write this column, I hear thunder. But the sky is clear. It's just the usual sound that ushers in the week of the Fourth.

Those sounds are not caused by safe-and-sane displays, but rather the heavy artillery brought in from Nevada, Arizona, Mexico and other places.

Remember, safe-and-sane fireworks are non-projectile. They make a bit of noise and set off colorful smoke and sparks. And, according to the Orange County Post-Action report after our recent two-year trial, no hospital visits were connected to these typically harmless products during the recent two-year trial when they were legal in Huntington Beach. Not one.

But perhaps even more important than the innocent entertainment they brought to dozens of neighborhoods in our community, they delivered money, lots of it. Dozens of nonprofit organizations were able to make thousands of dollars by selling fireworks, and our city was able to supplement its budget for our big and famous Fourth of July celebrations.

We all know this is not a good time for brutal fiscal hits. So why would a 4-3 City Council majority vote out that kind of money? I still have no idea.

I know certain members will claim a connection between safe-and-sane fireworks and the larger, dangerous pyrotechnics. I've read the 2007-08 Orange County Grand Jury report, which draws a correlation between legalized safe-and-sane types and the increased use of heavier explosives, but the research struck me as somewhat generic. Every city is unique.

Also, one of the recommendations was to "let the issue of legal fireworks sales be decided by the voters in each city."  That would have been nice.

That said, I'm happy that our city puts on arguably the best Independence Day fireworks display in Southern California.

The other day I caught up with Caty Eidemiller, who works for the famed Zambelli Fireworks Co. Antonio Zambelli came to this country in 1893 from Italy to start the company, and Eidemiller likes working for the "first family of fireworks."

"My dad, Jeffrey, has worked for Zambelli for a long time as their chief pyrotechnician," she said. "I grew up in the business, and it's still, I think, one of the most exciting jobs you can have, putting on these amazing shows."

Caty and her family plan to drive this week from their Utah home to Bakersfield to pick up the equipment needed for the Surf City show. On Wednesday night, they should be setting up on the pier and placing the mortars based on the show's choreography.

She said they'll work from midnight until dawn so that on Thursday the entire setup will be complete and resting under a thick blanket of security. All that work will pay off Friday, when thousands of people along our coast will be dazzled.

"It's a really great show this year," the 28-year old Eidemiller told me. "We always customize something really special for Huntington Beach. This particular show has over 300 cues built into it, and remember, each cue has multiple fireworks. So it's a big show.

"At this point we're trying to get approval to use some larger shells out on the pier but will have to hear from the fire marshal."

A number of years ago, I spoke with Caty's dad, Jeff, just after he arrived in the city to set up our show. He's a fascinating guy, and I'll never forget his guided tour as we tiptoed through the mortars on the pier. He's been "shooting" for the Zambellis since 1981, and his skills have taken him all over the world.

For more information on what I am sure will be yet another spectacular event on the Fourth, visit http://www.hb4thofjuly.org. And thanks to the folks on the organizing committee.

To quote Thomas Jefferson, "Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits."

On that note, wishing you all a most happy and safe Independence Day.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 25 books, including the new "Huntington Beach Chronicles: The Heart of Surf City" from History Press. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.

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