Fireworks Fun at Winter Blast 2024

An incomplete report of what I did on my pyrotechnic vacation

Terrie Schweitzer
4 min readFeb 21, 2024

Most people don’t realize that it’s possible to learn how to build and shoot fireworks (safely) as a complete novice. Amateur pyrotechnicians routinely build fireworks that rival what you see in professional shows, and it’s easier to get into this hobby than you might guess. The key is to join one of the pyrotechnic associations that hold events in the US each year. I just returned from one such event hosted by my home club, Western Pyrotechnic Association.

Winter Blast is a completely volunteer-produced event held in Lake Havasu City, Arizona each February. We meet for four or five days at the Havasu 95 Speedway to learn, build fireworks, and enjoy shooting and watching them at night. Safety, of course, is paramount and the club has to work closely with ATF and local officials as well enforce rules with attendees—to make it all possible.

During the day, experienced fireworks builders teach seminars and workshops on making all sorts of pyrotechnic devices.

Four students making Italian shell fireworks at a work table.
Attendees putting the final wrapper on their shells during the Italian Shell workshop.

Attendees make use of the “manufacturing area”, a managed area where members can set up shade canopies and work tables to create their own fireworks. Supplies and chemicals are purchased in advance from vendors who bring goods to the site — everything manufactured needs to be shot during the event unless the maker has all of the permits and licenses required to take them out of the gate.

This is only a short highlight story about an event I attended…someday I hope to capture a better portrait of my experiences and what it all means to me. I’m forever grateful to my friends from Iowa, Tom and Eunice, for opening the door to the world of pyros.

Workshops: Italian Shell and Comets

I attended two workshops this year. The first was on making comets, long sparkly tails that can be set off on their own or as a trailing effect on other fireworks. The second was on building Italian Shells.

In comet class, I chose to make a comet to be used as a trailing effect on my partner’s 5" ball shell, but it turned out that he was dissuaded from adding anything to his shell, so that didn’t work out. In a small pivot, the Italian Shell instructor helped me do an experiment of attaching the comet to my Italian shell—something that typically isn’t done with Italian-style shells. (As a trailing effect, we didn’t think my comet was the right size to be launched out of a mortar on its own.)

An Italian shell device next to a comet device.
The black “puck” is my comet, next to my Italian shell before wrapping it up.
How we attached the comet to the top of the shell, adding some match fuse to help ensure that it lit when the shell was launched. And then the final wrapped and fused shell. I always decorate my shells so I can more easily find them amid all of the others in the ready-box at night. And also because I like something I spend hours making to look pretty.

The instructor warned me that masking tape alone was not going to secure my comet to the shell itself, so it would undoubtedly separate when the whole thing got blasted out of the mortar. But hopefully it would be on the same trajectory, and if the timing was right, the appearance in the sky would be okay.

The two devices did go up together but went off completely separately. Still—I got to see the results from both workshops in one shot.

My comet w/Italian shell experiment. (The bright moon washed out our videos this year!)

This year was my first to join the manufacturing area to make my own devices outside of class. I made bag mines, simple devices with big impact, based on what I learned four years ago in another workshop. Here’s a video of two of my bag mines:

Two of my bag mines. I was really happy with how these turned out.

The most difficult part of making my own fireworks was figuring out what to pre-order, what to pack, and how to manage products in the manufacturing area. But I had lots of help from others, and it will be lots easier at the next opportunity. One of the things I appreciate about this hobby is that there are endless ways I can progress, and the club gives me support in growing my abilities from one year to the next.

If you’re in the western US and want to get into pyrotechnics yourself, the Western Pyrotechnic Association will help. If you happen to be in the Midwest, check out my first club (via Tom and Eunice), the Iowa Pyrotechnic Association. And for anyone anywhere, the Pyrotechnic Guild International is great organization that can direct you to other local clubs and holds an enormous event in the US each year, where I guarantee you will see fireworks that will take your breath away.

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Terrie Schweitzer

Director, Content Curation at Medium. Luckiest woman in the world. http://terrie.me/