Many fireworks displays are canceled across the country because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Souza family is behind many of the biggest displays.
From the rockets red glare to bombs bursting in air, for more than a centruy, the Souza family has been creating magic in the sky.
On the cracked earth deep in the California desert, we met Paul Souza at a pop up test site to prepare for the Fourth of July Celebrations
“This little cup here is the lift charge.”
Or at least what’s left of them, after coronavirus fears caused mass cancellations.
“How many fireworks displays do you normally do every year, roughly?,” Carter asked”
“Around 400 on the Fourth of July. About 2,000 throughout the year,” Paul Souza said.
And how many this year?
“Fifty. It’s pretty bleak,” Souza said.
“We’re in the public gathering business. And public gatherings are what’s gone. We’re actually standing here today doing’ a test. And it’s gonna be the first time I’ve shot fireworks in three months… and I think we’re all just giddy like teenagers to do this tonight,” Souza said.
The fireworks he’s auditioning tonight will end up dazzling people at one of the most important shows of his career.
An Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore National Monument with the president in attendance.
“There hasn’t been fireworks there in 10 years,” Souza said.
The President’s gonna be watching
“The President’s gonna be there, yeah,” Souza said.
Some of these new fireworks might be used in the Rushmore show.
“We better do good or we’re gonna get slammed, hahaha,” Souza said.
This simulation is part of pyro spectaculars planning for the Rushmore show, which will consist of more than 10,000 fireworks, launching from 7 locations, one atop George Washington’s head.
“Everything’s got to get up that mountain by manpower ha, man and woman power,” Souza said.
The National Park Service stopped fireworks at the monument more than a decade ago, citing pollution concerns and fire danger. In January 2020, the President responded.
“I said, you mean you can’t have fireworks because of the environment? Yeah, environmental reasons. I said what can burn, it’s stone. Ya know, it’s stone,” President Donald Trump said.
And the park service changed its tune.
“We have to be precise. They don’t want scorch marks on president’s heads or shells or fireworks– bouncing around. And so it’s sensitive,” Souza said.
After collecting data in the desert, the process moves to the computer where fireworks are timed to the music.
It promises to be a spectacular show, but as big as it is, it won’t be enough to support the company.
“68% of our business is on the Fourth of July, one day a year. And there’s no real re-dos,” Souza said.
It’s even worse for other fireworks companies, 75 percent of their revenue comes from this one day and it’s a year of making and storing million of pounds of explosives.
The Souza’s arsenal of shells are stored in 14 underground bunkers. The American Pyrotechnics Association is now asking congress for additional funding to help these businesses survive until next year.
Pyro Spectaculars CEO Jim Souza is Already feeling the pressure.
This is five generations now and this is your business. How much does that weigh on you?
100%. It affects you all over, emotionally, physically. We’ll have to have hope and faith that it’s gonna get better,” Jim Souza said.
While the Souza’s may face an uncertain future, their ultimate hope is to light up America’s skies for years to come.