Avon prepares for big bang | VailDaily.com

Avon prepares for big bang

CVR Fireworks Prep DT 7-1-10

AVON, Colorado – Fireworks still get set off by beer-drinking guys with cigars, just not at Avon’s annual Salute to the USA.

Instead of guys with a Coors in one hand and a Cohiba in another, Avon’s fireworks display is touched off from a computer-controlled console synched up to a soundtrack prepared months in advance, and the thousands of shells, mortars and comets are loaded by a crew of professionals over the course of nearly two days.

For the past couple of years that crew has been led by Paul Zoch, whose day job is the facilities maintenance chief at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek. Zoch works under contract for Western Enterprises, an Oklahoma-based company that has for years put the sparkle and bang in Avon’s annual show.

Zoch started working in the fireworks business about 25 years ago helping with shows in Illinois, and eventually joining the Pyrotechnic Guild International.

Zoch moved to the valley when the Park Hyatt opened and thought he’d have to give up working with fireworks. Once here, though, he met Jim Funk, who ran Avon’s fireworks show from its first years until he moved to Arizona just a couple of years ago.

Like most folks in the business for a while, Zoch’s a serious professional. Loading tubes and then wiring them with thousands of big, small, high and low fireworks for a show lasting nearly half an hour takes a lot of work and a crew of nearly 20.

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And once the fireworks arrive, there’s full-time security on hand.

The result is something special. The annual show is billed as the biggest Independence Day fireworks show in Colorado, and it just might be.

But what’s really special to Zoch is synching the show up with music.

Go back 15 years or so, and an operator launched fireworks to music cues on a printed sheet. These days, the computer handles the job with more precision than any human can.

The music for the show is picked out months in advance – as early as January.

“At first we think about what we want to hear, then we work from there,” Avon special events coordinator Danita Chirichillo said.

That music is mostly rock. The crowd likes it that way, Chirichillo said.

“We tried a Western theme a couple of years ago and it didn’t go over that well,” she said.

This year’s show will feature music from U2, Pink Floyd and Van Halen, among others, with a few classical selections in the mix, too.

That soundtrack is then sent to Western Enterprises, where the experts there put together a show to match the music. The shells are picked, the software is programmed, and then it’s up to the local crew to build and wire the whole thing along about 150 feet of the dam at Nottingham Lake.

Zoch can go into detail about what’s getting put where, but the important thing is that it works.

And the weather cooperates. Over the years, the Salute to the USA has been snowed out at least once, and there were a couple of years early this decade when the show was either cancelled or scaled way back due to drought-induced fire danger.

But when it all works, it’s a lot of fun for everybody.

Even more than three dozen police officers on duty in Avon that night can take at least a few minutes to watch the displays.

“You kind of find someplace dark, and where you know no one can come up behind you,” Avon Police Sgt. Robert Sheehan said.

Sheehan is the event commander for the town party this year, so he’ll be cooped up in building for the show. But there will be nearly 40 other officers working traffic and walking the park, trying to make sure no one gets too unruly.

And most of the time, people behave themselves pretty well.

“I think we had four arrests last year,” Sheehan said. “When you consider there’s 10 or 15,000 people in the park, that’s amazing.”

The park rules help, of course. People aren’t allowed to bring in their own liquor, fireworks or pets, and coolers are checked at the entry gates. People get a chance to take their own booze back to their cars, Sheehan said. But if they don’t want to make the walk again, it’s confiscated.

And this year, the Colorado State Patrol is going to heavily patrol Interstate 70 and will ticket anyone who stops along the highway to watch the show.

“It’s incredibly dangerous,” Sheehan said.

For the most part, though, people are able to get into and out of the park pretty easily, although it takes a while to get everyone out.

“We look every year at what we could do better and work on that,” Sheehan said. “But it works pretty well.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.