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Fireworks Fans to Converge on Wis.

August 2, 2001

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APPLETON, Wis. (AP) _ They’re coming from as far away as Brazil, the Netherlands and China. They’re coming to look up into the Wisconsin night sky and marvel.

Basically, they’re coming to watch stuff blow up.

About 3,000 fireworks fans from around the world are expected to converge on eastern Wisconsin for what is being billed as the world’s largest gathering of pyrotechnics enthusiasts.

At the Pyrotechnics Guild International convention, which starts Saturday and runs until Aug. 10, visitors will get a chance to swap secrets, learn new techniques and enjoy the buzz on booms.

``They’re all here for one reason _ fireworks. It’s art in the sky,″ said convention co-chair Larry Cornellier. ``It’s sort of the Fourth of July for fireworks people.″

One event features about $100,000 worth of 300-foot-long firecrackers to be lit in unison after a tribute to illusionist and Appleton native Harry Houdini.

In another event, some 3 million to 5 million firecrackers will be bundled together in an 80- to 100-foot package, lifted up in a crane and detonated.

While admission to seminars, setups and a trade show is restricted _ organizers, after all, must keep a close watch on all that firepower _ much of the fun will be visible beyond the display site at the Wisconsin International Raceway tracks in nearby Kaukauna.

The guild has rented 400 acres nearby so carloads of gawkers can glimpse the majesty. As many as 100,000 are expected to watch the nightly shows.

``This will be 20 times more impressive than anything you’ve ever seen before,″ said ``Pyro Bob″ Cleveland, the other co-chair, and the man largely responsible for luring the annual event to Appleton.

Wisconsin, with nearly 300 members in the state’s 32-year-old fireworks club, has the second-highest number of registered enthusiasts in the country, second only to Minnesota.

The convention, the biggest ever held in the area, is expected to bring in around $1 million, according to the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau.

``They’re staying a week at a time of year when our hotel business seems to be a little slower,″ said bureau services manager Chris Church, who helped lobby the guild to bring the event to Appleton.

But along with the blazing theatrics come logistical and safety headaches.

Participants had to secure dozens of local, county, state and federal permits for transporting and setting up the goods. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also inspected the site.

Setting up is a major ordeal, too. As temperatures climbed to 97 degrees this week, crews dug 200-foot trenches around the track, carefully inserting solid iron tubes into the ground for competitions.

It will have taken 10 to 20 workers five days to set up Sunday’s computerized musical show, said David Lavoie, of Peterborough, N.H.’s Pyromate.

``Setting up fireworks is probably the hardest work on this planet,″ Lavoie said. ``But it’s all worth it in the end.″

Cleveland, a 40-year fireworks veteran, agreed: ``I like to see the look on little kids’ faces as their eyes go like saucers.″


On the Net:

Pyrotechnics Guild International: http://www.pgi.org

Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.foxcities.org

Wisconsin Pyrotechnic Arts Guild: http://www.tznet.com/shubing/wpag

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