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Fireworks go off as planned, a day late

July 06, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Steve Catlett had his eyes on the sky Sunday. He was willing to live with a few scattered showers, but when the downpour came, complete with thunder and lightning, he made a decision.

The $5,000 fireworks show was called off and rescheduled for Monday night, when it went off without a problem.

Catlett, executive director of Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation, was at War Memorial Park throughout the day Sunday. Bands performed, children swam, teenagers played miniature golf and families cooked out.

Around 7 p.m., though, the sky became teasingly dark, with clouds but no rain. Then, about 45 minutes before the fireworks were set to begin, at 8:45 p.m. it began to rain.

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Catlett estimated that when the rain began, around 3,000 people were still at the park. Martinsburg Police Department Chief Ted Anderson went to his office to check the weather radar. He spotted a big splotch of green over the area and told Catlett.

At 9:20 p.m. an announcement was made over the park's speaker system that the fireworks were postponed.

"It was the right decision because at that point most people were gone anyway," Catlett said.

Another factor to consider was that setting off the 380 shells could have been dangerous for the pyrotechnics experts, who donate their time. Moisture can cause misfires or can cause a firework not to go off as normal. If someone walked up to check it, the firework could explode in that person's face, Catlett said.

Also, with lightning in the sky, keeping people in the tree-filled park until the rain cleared could have been dangerous, Catlett said.

Sunday was the first time in a decade or so that rain caused the fireworks to be postponed. In the late 1980s or early 1990s torrential downpours on three straight nights halted the fireworks, Catlett said.

Only by the fourth night was the show able to proceed, Catlett said.

In 2002, several fights flared up with the fireworks, causing several people to be escorted from the park or arrested and the finale to be delayed for about half an hour. Most of the crowd had left by then and watched the last big blasts from their lawns or car windows as they fought traffic home.

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