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Kaleidoscope of color over Lake Tahoe

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Be ready for The Fireworks Spectacular, a display set to music, blasting off Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

It should last about 20 minutes, a little shorter than the show on the Fourth of July but just as intense and filled with crescendos.

South Lake Tahoe gets the good stuff when it comes to fireworks.



Ken Nixon, of Pyrodigital Consultants, who worked on displays at the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, said he uses the lake shows each summer to test out the latest shells and try different techniques to choreograph them to music.

“This is almost a showcase show, a highlight show that I design to show off some of the best products in the best manner possible,” Nixon said. “I try to do things that will reflect off the lake, that take advantage of having barges on the lake and being surrounded by boats all around us.”



Not only is it an innovative show, it’s a large one.

“Bigger than most Fourth of July shows in the U.S.,” Nixon said. “The one other show of that magnitude on Labor Day is the River Fest in Cincinnati, which has been going on for about 20 years.”

Nixon, a native of Nebraska where pyrotechnics are legal, has been setting off fireworks since he was 1. Today, his favorite shell to blast is called a kamuro, costing $500 to $600 and creating an umbrella-like canopy of colored light that lasts about 10 seconds.

The show will also include shells that sprinkle waterfalls in the sky and and aquatic shells ordered from Spain that explode just above the water. On Sunday night, three barges will be anchored just off the South Shore to launch the shells. Each one is fired by a computer controlled by Nixon and is rocketed from a mortar.

Nixon and a three-person crew will launch the fireworks about 500 feet from the barges. He’ll be stationed in a WWII amphibious watercraft, which floats but has six-wheels and can be driven up onto the beach.

It takes a 20-person crew about three days to prepare the barges. About 1,000 shells are packed inside the mortars, which are dug into sand that is held by plywood crates. With the barges packed and in place, the next challenge is keeping the shells dry while they float on Lake Tahoe.

“Our biggest challenge is dealing with wind and rough water,” Nixon said.

Pyrodigital uses its software and equipment to fire shells provided by Pyrospectacular, a fireworks distributor based in Los Angeles. The choreography, or trying to match the fireworks with the music, comes from Nixon.

“It should feel natural,” he said. “It shouldn’t break right with the music. It should seem automatic. When the choreography is working properly, it should be a feast for the eyes and the ears. We try to take you on an emotional roller coaster ride.”

Fireworks on Labor Day is a tradition that started about five years ago.


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