Public invited to Isabella fireworks show, Saturday, July 6

By Catherine Stachowiak

Wednesday, June 19, Steve Spradlin spoke with the Kern Valley Sun about the upcoming annual fireworks show, at Lake Isabella, Saturday July 6.  The event is scheduled tentatively as early as 9pm, or as late as 9:45 depending on the conditions of the sky that night at sunset.

The fireworks show is put on within the Sequoia National Forest and therefore requires a special use permit.  The group organizing the event had to present an operating plan to the Sequoia National Forest, in Kernville and in Porterville, to attain approval to have the event within the forest.  The event is one of the few allowed in a forest, only because it is over the lake.

Spradlin said there are requirements about the wind, and based on conditions of the night, taking into consideration the light occurring in the sky that night.  “Is there a full moon?  Is it cloudy effects when we can shoot it off?”

Spradlin said the organizers expect to have timeframe fulfilling most spectators, which is usually just over 20 minutes.  Shells will average a shot every one and a half, to two, seconds. Every shell does something different, using up approximately 1,000 shells. “We have the advantage of having a slower show, in that you get to appreciate the shells as they go up, and then the presentation that each shell puts on,” he said.

There will be a number of different size shells. They will be using balls in gun powder, in ABS pipes, with a fuse coming out, the team would fire off electronically from an electronics board that looks like a musicians board.  Spradlin said, “We shoot shells anywhere from 3 inch diameter, up to previously through 8 inch shells. So we have 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8-inch shells.  The 8-inch are the ones that you hear echo off the hill, and you hear the resounding boom coming back at you.  This year we brought in some 10 inch that we’re real anxious to see here how those things go off.”

Spradlin believes that the disadvantage of being in the forest, and over the lake, is not being able to use the fireworks down on the ground, which are less expensive and could be seen at stadiums.  The ones used at the lake are several hundred dollars apiece.  

The show is planned to include multi break shells, floral shells, palm dahlia, chrysanthemum shells, serpent shells, Zambelli specialty shells, and titanium solute shells. They have different patterns and do different things. It is expected to last exactly 20 minutes, as has been the case in recent years. Spradlin said, “It’s a little different take on watching fireworks. You get to appreciate the different effects that they give.”

They will be launched at a flat top, at the very top of Engineers Point, which was left at the construction of the dam. The south part of the valley enjoys a better view, though sadly, it cuts out viewers from Wofford Heights.  He said, “It makes the perfect launch site for the fireworks. It’s not as far out to the lake as we would like. But it’s quite a bit higher than where we have launched from before, which gives us more visibility down in the Lake Isabella, Bodfish area. They have a much better view.”

Whenever consumers contribute to the show, at the register round up, they’re contributing to the fireworks show, according to Spradlin.  He said, “We again raised enough this year.  One of the main fundraising efforts that we’ve done, last year and certainly did this year, was the round up at the register. We raised over 50% of our $41,000 cost of the fireworks through that round up at the register.”  

Spradlin explained why the valley doesn’t enjoy the fireworks show on exactly the fourth. Typically people ask why.  People in the valley and tourists prefer having the show on a Saturday night.  “We go to the closest Saturday night from the Fourth, or the one that would typically make a three or four day weekend, for the people that are here for the whole holiday.”  Spradlin said he expects 10,000 to 20,000 people to show up for the show.

The inception of the show began decades before this group picked it up. The fireworks show was originally started by a group in Wofford Heights called the Wofford Heights Improvement Group (WHIG.)  At that time Spradlin was president of the Lake Isabella Chamber of Commerce, and WHIG asked him to take the event over.  So Spradlin said the chamber was willing to do it at its choice of location. Spradlin was the head of the committee to make sure the event was able to continue annually.  Together the group evolved it, for years, into what it became.  Spradlin said, “There’s a group of volunteers that picked up the torch from what the chamber did. The chamber was responsible for fundraising for it for 30 years.” 

Round up canisters and phone calls to prominent business owners, and donors making contributions separately, enable capabilities.

The chamber planned to stop doing the show because the costs and fund raising tasks started to become cumbersome. So Spradlin began organizing it with a group of volunteers, for the fundraising aspect though the chamber is still sponsoring it. The Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce still has the contract with Zambelli, and covers the insurance, and paperwork.  Spradlin’s group does the fundraising and interacts with the pyro-technicians.  

“In the end there were 12 to 15 people that did the legwork.”  Spradlin said, “It’ll be a good show. It always is.  We were able for 20-25 years to grow the show every year by adding extras and more shows. And when COVID came along and just exploded the cost on it, we’ve been kind of flattened out, the last four years, as far as the size of the show. But we’ve done a couple things to add some excitement to it, that didn’t entail more numbers, to make it more exciting.”

Last year the team cut back the works and squeezed them into 18 minutes and added excitement by making the last two minutes of shells, of the 20 minute show, a semi grand finale, after a ten second pause, building anticipation. 

The show is planned to continue next year as well. Spradlin said, “We’ll do them as long as we have enough people to keep it going and the funds are there. It’s not a fireworks show. It’s a celebration of American Independence.”