Keith and Cyndi Chauvie's once-a-year shot at stardom crashed in flames Wednesday when Southern California's brush fires prompted the overworked Ventura County Fire Department to cancel all but one fireworks show in the county.
A licensed pyrotechnist, Keith Chauvie had planned to spend today setting up for a fireworks show that he and his wife were to have staged tonight at Simi Valley High School.
Instead, the Sepulveda couple found themselves with 20 hours' worth of planning under their belts and nothing to show for it. There is some chance the canceled show might be rescheduled, but that will depend on local interest and the availability of firefighters.
The Chauvies, for whom pyrotechnics is a hobby, not a livelihood, understand the Fire Department's decision.
"It's silly to complain about my losses when there's people losing a lot more than me," said Keith Chauvie, alluding to the fires that have killed two people and destroyed many homes and thousands of acres of brush.
In explaining the cancellation, county fire officials said their crews were too busy fighting fires to adequately staff the Simi Valley show. The remaining fireworks show in Ventura County is to be held at Camarillo Airport in Camarillo, the Fire Department said.
The fires and hot, dry weather had fire officials considering canceling some shows in Los Angeles County as well.
Cyndi Chauvie, 38, said she doesn't know what to do with her free time today.
"We've never had a Fourth of July," she said. "What do people do?"
Her husband plans to spend the day at his business, which tests and calibrates equipment for industry.
Like most of the state's 400 licensed pyrotechnists, Keith Chauvie, 32, doesn't work for the money, but for the satisfaction of pulling off a good show.
The Chauvies get a percentage of the proceeds from the shows they produce. The Simi Valley show would have brought them an estimated $700.
Keith Chauvie became interested in pyrotechnics when he was 15. He started hanging around the shows and helping out, earning his license at 21, the minimum age. He usually works once a year, on the Fourth of July, though he occasionally picks up another fireworks job.
His wife, who sets off the show's grand finale under her husband's direction, finds the fireworks experience a little scary.
"It is extremely exciting and a little terrifying when the mortar shells go up and you're a few feet away," she said, adding that her feelings of danger and fear are tempered by the trust she has in her husband's ability to handle fireworks.
The couple use about six helpers to stage their show, including her son, Rob, 19, and Keith's brother, Scott, 27. They work in a 400-square-foot section of the school's football stadium designated as the fallout area for occasional cinders.
"It's a different world out there," said Keith Chauvie. "It's smoky and sparkly and the ground shakes. It's like being in a battle zone."
Class B explosives, which are what the Chauvies had planned to shoot off, include noisemakers, multiple bursts and Roman candles. These fireworks can be legally set off only by licensed pyrotechnists in public displays.
It's not always a glamorous job, but for Keith and Cyndi Chauvie, it's been worth every mortar shell.
"It's an awesome responsibility," Cyndi Chauvie said with fervor. "You will never be the same."