Chair Hall Table KnickKnack case

I spent the 4th of July with friends in a tall condominium right on Miami Beach. Their balconies, on the 11th floor, look east over South Beach and southwest to downtown and Coral Gables. The fireworks barge was scheduled to be almost exactly in front of us, just a little offshore.

While we’re waiting for the barge to arrive with the main attraction, the beach below us is loaded with revelers, many with serious ordinance themselves. The noise and light from the explosions on the beach is almost continuous. We’re 120 feet up, and a few hundred feet from the shoreline. Nevertheless a few of the amateur rocketeers manage to come pretty close. Some of the dune grasses catch fire south of us and we call the fire dept. It’s pretty impressive, a patch as big as a garage flaming up 10 feet, and the grass is continuous there, so it might spread. People are throwing sand and water, but not doing much good. I think someone brings a few extinguishers from an adjacent building because it dies out suddenly. Then, of course, the fire trucks show up. But it’s hard to find fault with a 10 minute response time on a dry July 4, it must be a big day for firemen.

Back on the Atlantic, the tug and barge arrive almost an hour late. All the other official fireworks have finished. (You can see 5-6 different towns’ fireworks from these balconies.) It isn’t very rough or windy, but the tug is having trouble setting the barge. The barge is supposed to tie off or anchor, then the tug, full of fuel, is to back off. After the tug fumbles around for half an hour, it seemed to be headed back to harbour, letting out some tow rope.

While still connected to the tug, a few fireworks come off the barge, then the whole barge lights up, as if with fountain style fireworks. Suddenly it’s engulfed in smoke, a few big fireworks come up out of the smoke, and you can see flickering and flashing in the smoke. Now and again a tall rocket makes it out of the huge column of smoke. This continues for perhaps 5-10 minutes.

My heart is in my throat, figuring the guys on the barge are toast. One of the police boats approaches the barge, but backs of quickly. As everything subsides, and the smoke blows away, all the lights on the barge are out, though George, one of my hosts, using binoculars, tells us someone is moving around with a flashlight.

After another 10 minutes, a few more rockets come off the barge, then the tug takes it away. No emergency boats come up. George advances the theory that the fireworks guys screwed up their sequence wiring, had been still trying to fix it even as the barge came out. He speculates that if they don’t do the display at all, they don’t get paid, so they just started it in desperation as their time window closed. It’s scary watching that much firepower screwing up.

We looked for local news on the incident for a few days, but never heard how the guys on the barge did. I suppose they were ok, ‘cause you’d have expected one of the many police boats, or a copter, to have taken them off the barge if they were injured.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a botched firework display, or at least knew it was botched. But Stephanie and George have seen several others. Apparently Miami Beach goes for the low bids. I was talking about the crack teams at Disney, like “Ho-hum another day, another $500,000 fireworks display goes off perfectly.” Low bids indeed.