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Celebrate the Fourth with a bang

Estacadas fireworks shows July 4, July 6 rival those in the metro area


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - (Above) At a recent Estacada fireworks show, certified pyro technicians supervise the burying of mortar tubes in the ground prior to the show.  (Right) After the mortar tubes are buried properly, the fuse wires are connected strategically to provide a continuous show that local residents will remember for a long time.  (Below right) In the aftermath of a recent Estacada fireworks show, ashes are scattered all around the area where so many rockets were shot into the air, exploding into colorful grandeur as a celebration of the birthday of this country's independent freedom. Estacada does it with a bang - a big bang.

Spectators who attend the annual Estacada Big Bang Fireworks Show might remember the colorful way everyone celebrates the independence and freedom citizens of this country have enjoyed for nearly 21?„2 centuries.

Or they might remember something of what the vendors were selling, or the food or a taste they acquired at the beer garden or the world-class lawnmower races or the timber bucking or the custom car show or the carnival or the Portland bands.

Or they might just realize the 2012 show was better than in 2011.

But Dan Skoog says they should not forget what his pyro technicians (he calls them pyros) have to do to put fireworks shows together Wednesday and Friday, and give the thousands watching their biggest thrill of the year.

Skoog says it's so much easier to see a show close to home in Estacada than to go to Portland or Vancouver.

Pyros highly qualified

Just to be involved, each pyro needs to be certified and earn a license granted by state and federal agencies - the Oregon Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Homeland Security are among several involved.

All of that requires the demonstration of skills and knowledge as well as background checks. The license also requires ongoing continuing education and recertification at least every three years.

There is so much government regulation and paperwork before, during and after the show, Skoog says, - for example - he's not allowed to haul fireworks to the show site anymore. The Oregon Department of Transportation considers the fireworks a hazardous material and requires special trucks and trained drivers.

Pyros key in show

Skoog has been organizing these shows in Estacada for about 20 years, and some of his five certified pyros (sometimes called aerial display operators) have been working with him nearly that long.

He calls them his "kids," even though only one of the quintet is his biological child. He calls them his " kids" because of their dedication to the activity of creating a colorful light show at night, giving people a night to remember as they recall the importance of their freedom.

"They (his kids) grew up with (fireworks)," he said, "and they still donate their time every year. They take vacations (from their jobs) and work here in Estacada."

In addition to the five licensed pyros, there is an equal number of assistants because Skoog says it is a big job to prepare and execute a show. Overall, from setup to cleanup in Estacada it could keep some of the pyros and their assistants busy for four or five days.

"Without these guys, there would be no Fourth of July in Estacada," he said. "They donate their time, which means we can afford more fireworks."

Skoog compared the local show to the regional show in Vancouver, Wash.

"Last year," he said, "we went longer and shot bigger shells than Vancouver."

Pyros highly motivated

Rocky Skoog, Dan's son, says he has been in the center of the fireworks show for so many years because it's his way to give back to a community he holds dear, since he grew up here and believes that has added stability to his life.

But he added that he also gets a big bang out of celebrating his country's independence in a big way.

Maybe that's why the event is often called the "Big Bang."

He's also a stickler for safety - not only for the pyro crew, but also for the public.

The Hoffmans, Tim and Nickie, have been using their vacation time for 17 years to be Skoog's kids and give this fireworks show to the community.

Nickie says (with a laugh) "it's really fun to blow things up," even though she also is passionate about safety.

She and her husband and all the other pyros said they really appreciate the food local restaurants donate to keep them going while they are getting the show ready to light the first firework.

Tim Hoffman admits there's a lot of adrenaline when fire shoots from the tubes, but says he likes it just because "it's fun."

"We get such a rush of adrenaline from this," he said. "We're on such a high while it's going on. And when the crowd cheers (after a fireworks display), that's just awesome."

Kurt Ziegelmayer says he's hooked on the excitement of the fiery show.

"It's pretty exciting lighting off the fireworks," he said. "And I like hanging out with the people who are doing it because they've been my friends for years - since I grew up here in Estacada."

Ziegelmayer, who does this pyro work during his vacation, admitted there is a lot of work two days before the shows and one day after, but the fun of lighting the huge fireworks makes all the work worth it.

Wayne Lerch, also "one of the kids," has been a licensed pyro for at least 30 years.

In fact, Lerch began his education in fireworks safety when he was 4 years old. His father, returning from the Korean Conflict, started a fireworks stand in Montana and began to show his young son how to be safe when near fireworks.

Lerch says he's still a kid at heart when it comes to fireworks.

"I'm a big kid from a small town," he said, "just wanting to have fun."

Community sponsored

Even though Estacada's fireworks shows rival those in Portland and Vancouver, Skoog says area residents should feel good that they can stay at home, save gas and see a show as good or better than others in the area.

And the trip home is so much shorter.

"This is a totally community-sponsored event," he said. "The in-kind donations (of about $100,000) would easily make this an event that costs $150,000 or more if we had to pay all the costs."

The elder Skoog and his brother-in-law, George "Dusty" Bollenbaugh, were instrumental in 1993 to help the fireworks show continue when responsibility for the show moved from the Estacada Chamber of Commerce to Skoog's nonprofit organization - Estacada Area Community Events.

By 2006, Bollenbaugh and Skoog had retired from the pyro crew, and since then "the kids" have dug the trenches, set the tubes and lit the fireworks.

In 2006, Skoog was talking about himself and Bollenbaugh retiring by saying, "the shovel doesn't fit in our hands anymore."

Last fall, Bollenbaugh died, and Skoog is dedicating this year's fireworks show to the memory of his brother-in-law.

For more information, visit estacada4thofjuly.com or estacadaareaevents.com.