San Diego tries to avoid a repeat of 2012's epic fireworks fizzle

SAN DIEGO — As a civic black-eye, it was a doozy.

The July 4th Big Bay Boom Fireworks of 2012 was to be set to patriotic music and last a spectacular 16 minutes above the West Coast home of the U.S. Navy.

Instead it was over in an explosive but puzzling 30 seconds, in clear view of several hundred thousand people swarming around San Diego Bay.

Once the videos hit the Internet, the embarrassment only spread, millions of views on YouTube, complete with comments about fizzle rather than sizzle and bust rather than boom.

Now it’s a year later and a new July 4th big boom looms, Thursday at 9 p.m.

The producer and the fireworks company — both the same as last year — are vowing to make amends with a show even bigger and gaudier than last year’s was supposed to be.

“Last year’s show was spectacular, just not in a way that we wanted,” said Augie Santore Jr., the show’s leadman from his family’s New Jersey-based Garden State Fireworks. “We’re back to do it right.”

If all goes well: 20,000 fireworks, 18 minutes, plus configurations and colors meant to wipe away the mocking memory of last year.

“We understand the hype surrounding this event,” Santore said.

As a show of good faith — and a bit of remorse — the company is donating the fireworks and paying its own expenses, about $125,000 in total.

To be sure, there are other July 4th fireworks shows in the county, from National City in the south to Sea World on Mission Bay and northward to Camp Pendleton.

But for a decade, the big boom show has been the fireworks show for the city and county governments and the San Diego Unified Port District and for the tourism industry.

Even with the free fireworks, this year’s budget is about $400,000, mostly for advertising, permit fees, barges, tugboats and environmental reviews.

As always, if contributions from companies and public agencies, exceed expenses, the surplus will be donated to the Armed Services YMCA. H.P. “Sandy” Purdon, marina owner and founder and executive producer of the Big Bay Boom, hopes to clear $50,000 this year for the YMCA.

Garden State’s pyrotechnic pedigree stretches back 123 years and includes shows at New York’s bicentennial, the Winter Olympics at Calgary, the Goodwill Games at St. Petersburg, and many other venues. The company did not lose any business but took a hit in terms of its image, Santore said.

“Our competitors would like to take advantage,” he said.

Purdon said he is confident that Santore and his crew have done everything possible to avoid a repeat, including scrubbing out any errant software codes. Still, last year’s show has left its mark.

“We know that the whole world will be watching,” Purdon said.


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