KABOOM! San Diego's Entire Fireworks Show Ignites At Once

Jul 5, 2012
Originally published on March 21, 2014 5:08 pm

Here's what it looks like when about 18-minutes worth of professional fireworks all go up at once.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune says, the "city's big kaboom ka-bombed on Wednesday night."

On Twitter, the Unified Port of San Diego says "we sincerely apologize for the technical glitch that affected the ‪#BigBayBoom. Event producers are currently investigating the cause." Apparently, the fireworks on at least three of four barges in the city's bay went off all at once.

Appropriately named — before the mishap — the "Big Bay Boom," the show is annually one of the biggest in the western states. Port authorities issued a statement Wednesday night saying that:

"Approximately 5 minutes before the show was to start, a signal was sent to the barges that would set the timing for the rest of the show after the introduction. There were a number of preliminary test signals sent hours and minutes leading up to the show. All these signals tested properly according to Garden State Fireworks, the fireworks company that provides the show.

"The Garden State Fireworks team will be working throughout the night to determine what technical problem caused the entire show to be launched in about 15 seconds."

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They're calling it the Big Bay Bust.


BLOCK: Last night's fireworks show in San Diego Bay which was supposed to last for almost 20 minutes instead launched prematurely and all at once. In less than a minute, it was all over. Garden State Fireworks, the New Jersey company contracted to run the show, has apologized. The company blames a computer signal with a corrupted file that sent a message to the barges for all 7,000 firework shells to go off at once. That glitch left thousands of confused and disappointed spectators wondering what had happened, among them Will Carless, who's a journalist in San Diego. Will, tell me where you were when you were watching the display last night.

WILL CARLESS: We were at a friend's house, just kind of at the tail end of a party, just went out on the balcony to kind of watch what was going to be three simultaneous firework shows at the same time from a kind of high point above the city.

BLOCK: Uh-huh. And it started earlier than you expected it to, right?

CARLESS: That's right. We were actually - we were out on the balcony: my wife and I, my 3-year-old, who was really excited about the fireworks. So we kind of went out early, and we were standing there. And about four or five minutes before the show was supposed to start, there was just this colossal explosion and these three huge plumes of fireworks that went up. And at first, we just thought it was a really extravagant introduction to the whole show.

BLOCK: That was at first and then...


BLOCK: ...you realized there was no second act, huh?

CARLESS: Yeah. Right. Then we kind of - yeah, we just sort of kept waiting, and I was like, wow, they're really building the suspense. Then after about six or seven or eight minutes, it was like, honey, I think something has gone horribly wrong here. And then as time went on, it became clear that something malfunctioned, and that there really weren't going to be any more fireworks. And so we got on Twitter and eventually figured out that there's been this big malfunction.

BLOCK: Yeah. And they have apologized for that, but I suppose a lot of people in San Diego are not too happy with that.

CARLESS: Well, you know, for days beforehand, everyone was talking about how San Diego was, you know, it's a beautiful place, and it's obviously a big tourist destination. So a lot of people in town and a lot of people paid a lot of money to go out on boats and things in the bay and rent out oceanfront hotels and things like that and, yeah, big letdown for them.

BLOCK: Mm. And no doubt some contracts being gone over very carefully right now.


CARLESS: Yeah, seriously. I mean, it was pretty extraordinary and pretty amazing for 15 seconds. But, yeah, you know, normally, it goes on for about 17 minutes or something like that. And it's a lot of fun because actually they have three different shows going on at the same time, all across the city. So it's almost like the whole skyline for those 20 minutes is just filled with fireworks.

BLOCK: Well, I guess, for your 3-year-old, you know, any fireworks are pretty exciting. You don't - do you have to have a teachable moment, or can you just say...


BLOCK: ..there it was? There you go.

CARLESS: You know, it's funny. She didn't really know what to expect, you know? The irony being that we live in La Jolla where they have a big fireworks display over the cove in La Jolla, which is another beautiful spot. And we decided not to go to that and instead to go and watch the big one from our friend's balcony. And, of course, the irony is that the La Jolla fireworks...


CARLESS: ...went off without a glitch. And the ones over the bay were a kind of a big bust. So - but, you know, she had fun for the few seconds that it lasted, and then afterwards, she was just kind of saying, what exactly happened? And I think the adults were almost more disappointed than she was, to be honest.

BLOCK: Well, what's the conversation been like in San Diego today about this?

CARLESS: Well, it's kind of a mixture of a little bit of embarrassment and kind of, you know, pointing fingers, and people wanting to know, hey, what happened here, and will this company be held accountable? And, you know, there's some initial talk on Twitter and stuff about possibly there being another show to make up for this or something, but it's not really going to be the same, is it? It's not that, you know, it's the Fourth of July. Ironic, by the way, that there's an Englishman talking about this.


BLOCK: Yeah, indeed. We should say that no workers were hurt when this malfunction happened. Everybody was fine.

CARLESS: Right. Incredibly. I mean, probably a lot of people have seen the explosions on YouTube by now. I mean, it was a pretty immense explosion, and amazingly, no one was hurt.

BLOCK: Well, Will Carless, thanks for talking to us about the malfunction with the San Diego fireworks last night.

CARLESS: It was a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.