“What’s happened is, the size shell that you can shoot in a particular location has decreased,” Taylor explains. Just as shell width correlates to height, so too does height correlate with regulation. Old regulations dictated that you needed 70 feet of area cleared for every inch of shell fired around a launch area. The new industry standard is 100 feet. So when you play that out, practically, a large 12-inch shell needs 1,200 feet (or nearly a quarter of a mile) cleared in every direction to be considered safe.
Taylor tells me that fireworks sites nationwide have been shrinking with both urbanization and suburban sprawl. And fellow fireworks company Pyrotecnico echoes the sentiment. “What we’re finding is that sites are shrinking,” explains Pyrotecnico Creative Director Rocco Vitale. “Growth is happening. More buildings are going up. And when that happens at a site, a show you could use six-inch shells two years ago becomes a place for four-inch shells.”
Neither company feels that the end product has suffered as a result: Since the extra expense per each inch of shell grows almost exponentially, the savings made from downsizing can be reinvested into the experience.
“Rather than one eight-inch shell, I could probably put 12 three-inch shells up for the same price,” Taylor says. “We like that for several reasons. Larger shells are more dangerous because they have more explosive power in them. But the truth is, people in this country especially like density in their fireworks show.”
So perhaps the best solution is to find large, empty pieces of land that people have to travel to in order to see more impressive fireworks. Or, if available, communities could use bodies of water which also add the bonus of the reflective surface. Yet, many communities shoot fireworks from parks which tend to be close to other things.
There is an odd juxtaposition with this story. The headline reads: “How McMansions Murdered Big Fireworks.” Then the final short paragraph: “So it wasn’t your imagination. Fireworks have gotten smaller over the years. But there’s a bright side: The public may be safer, and happier, for it.” The headline invokes evil McMansions and the desecration of sacred fireworks shows. The story suggests this is all because we want fireworks to be safer and people tend to like more dense fireworks anyway. That’s a McMansion clickbait headline if I’ve every seen one…