Everyone loves fireworks; it is hard to imagine someone who cannot associate the magic of fireworks to a childhood memory, favorite holiday or great story. Often, when people recount their favorite fireworks memory, they remember their family’s summer vacation and the Tuesday night fireworks at Shelter Cove for HarbourFest Summer Celebration. After 27 years of sending fairy dust into the sky and watching everyone’s eyes light up, we figured it might be fun to give you the inside scoop.
How much really goes into setting up a fireworks show? You just light the fuse and let them do their thing, right?
HarbourFest and Tuesday night fireworks begin in mid-June and continue through mid-August, but planning for the event begins immediately following the closing night of HarbourFest. Applications & Permits with a variety of law enforcement entities involved are required to stage such an event. We work closely with the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire Department, Beaufort County Sherriff’s office, the South Carolina State Fire Marshal’s office, SC Department of Natural Resources, etc. Once all the logistic & planning details are approved, the Tuesday night fireworks events are given the green light. The Shelter Cove HarbourFest event has been fortunate to have the continued and generous support of Greenwood Communities and Resorts, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, the Shelter Cove Harbour Merchants Association, the Town of Hilton Head Island & local business sponsors for many years and has received funding to help offset the cost of producing the shows, security, traffic management and facilities maintenance. This additional funding has helped sustain and keep this event going even through the economic downturn.
With six to eight months of planning complete, it is show time (literally!). Preparation for a Tuesday night fireworks show begins around 2:00pm with fireworks scheduled to shoot at dusk (usually 9:00-9:30pm). As is the case with all outdoor events, weather and safety conditions play a huge part in the execution of the event. Here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, afternoon thunderstorms are a frequent occurrence. The daily weather conditions and forecast are tracked constantly and they dictate when and if we can set-up a show.
On the show dates, the Fire Marshal & Marina Dockmaster are called by the pyrotechnic company to alert them of their arrival time at the designated location. Once the crew and marina team are assembled, a safe zone clearance of 50 feet is created around the area and boat where the fireworks are being moved. The pyrotechnic company and crew can then begin to transport more than 500 pounds of fireworks (the July 4th show generally exceeds 1,000 pounds of fireworks and entails an 8-10 hour set-up time) onto a boat which is then driven to the barge that is positioned outside the Shelter Cove Marina in Broad Creek.
The loaded vessel leaves the marina and makes the trip to the barge just a few miles away. All of the fireworks are then offloaded onto the barge, individually wired and covered, if necessary, in case of inclement weather. The fireworks crew then gets back on to the boat to shoot the fireworks remotely from a safe 100 yard distance from the barge. Two additional boats must secure the perimeter of the barge for additional safety measures until the end of the fireworks show.
The entire loading, unloading and set up process takes four to five hours, weather permitting. As mentioned, factors like rain, wind, lightening and even heat advisories can disrupt the set up of the show and cause a show delay or cancellation. Simply put, if there is a threat of severe weather or any inclement weather during the set-up or firing of a fireworks show, our staff has no choice but to delay or cancel the show.
We have faced nights where we had to cancel a show at 4:00pm because the fireworks crew cannot set up in thunder and lightning conditions. But when the weather clears and it is sunny and nice by 6:00pm, people want to know why on Earth the fireworks were cancelled. The answer? Safety. The safety of our staff and guests is our main priority and is not something we take lightly.
Trust us when we say there is no one more disappointed than our staff when a fireworks show is forced into cancellation. We speak to residents and visitors every week who tell us that the Tuesday night fireworks at HarbourFest is the event they look forward to the most every summer with their family. We hate to let these folks down, but unfortunately, sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate.
We hope that by explaining the process of Tuesday night fireworks, guests, visitors and locals will gain a better understanding of the reasoning behind a cancelled show. No matter, the magic occurs every Tuesday night, mid-June to mid-August! … Weather permitting. : )