Every Fourth of July for the last 13 years, a man with a white beard and a long ponytail who goes by "Hutch" has commanded an audience of thousands of wide-eyed onlookers.
Robert Hutchins directs the all-volunteer pyrotechnic crew that sets up the annual fireworks show at La Crescenta Elementary, which took off in spectacular fashion Thursday night, eliciting the same oohs and ahs that it has for years.
PHOTOS: Fireworks in La Crescenta
For decades, the 1972 graduate of Crescenta Valley High has produced special effects for movies or television shows. On Thursday, he shared a video of a fiery explosion he created for the television show "Bones" that ended with a man's body parts in flames and his skull rolling on the ground.
"That's my day job," he said.
In exchange for doughnuts, bagels and lunch, the crew of about 30 people got an early start Thursday morning under Hutchins' lead.
By early afternoon, the volunteers would carefully drop the softball-sized "shells" by their fuse into tubes mounted on wooden racks, cautious not to linger any body parts over the tubes — "Or else you'll get yelled at," said Don Peck, a volunteer who has helped set up the fireworks several times.
"We look out for each other," he added.
Leaving fireworks to the professionals is one of the main reasons the Crescenta Valley Fireworks Assn. hosts the event.
"Our biggest thing in putting this on is eliminating fireworks from homes," said Jean Maluccio, who belongs to the Crescenta Valley Fireworks Assn. that began planning the event in January.
The association collects donations and holds fundraisers for the event, which costs about $37,000 to produce.
"A lot of people see the good of having a safe fireworks show," she said.