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Fridays with Jim Korkis: Walt Disney World Fireworks



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

WALT DISNEY WORLD FIREWORKS

By Jim Korkis

The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the world (and the second largest purchaser of explosive devices, right behind the U.S. Department of Defense), deploying well over a million individual fireworks annually. Epcot alone uses over 750 shells every night in its show.

Disney has never issued information about what it spends on fireworks shows but it has been estimated that just the Magic Kingdom shows alone would cost conservatively fifteen million dollars annually.

While Disney guests spend a great deal of time and research trying to strategize the best time and location to view one of the Walt Disney World parks evening fireworks shows, they may not think about all the thought and effort that goes into those spectaculars.

Several teams are involved, including Safety, Entertainment Fireworks Storage Facility, Fireworks and Special Effects, and Reedy Creek Emergency Services, spending months in preparation to make sure that the Entertainment stage technicians can deliver the finest and safest fireworks displays every day.

“When making the initial design for a show, careful consideration must be given to product selection,” stated Brad Cicotti principal Special Effects designer. “Working with Safety & Heath, this is achieved by performing numerous live tests of hundreds of fireworks items. Familiarity with the parks and their operation and, most importantly, knowledge of how the firework product will react when it is fired are critical.”

Entertainment Fireworks crews work on more than a half dozen Operation shows daily, some performed multiple times. Before the pandemic shutdowns occurred, teams also worked on over 350 special events annually including holiday celebrations, weddings and conventions.

At the Walt Disney World Resort, fireworks are not lit by hand but are ignited electronically. The product is “matched” by an electric igniter. For large shows, the electric igniter goes into a computerized firing system controlled by a pyrotechnician. The pyrotechnician monitors the computer status, the performance of the fireworks, weather conditions, and site security.

Starting in 2004, to launch the projectiles Walt Disney World uses a compressed air system that ensures a higher launch with greater accuracy and consistency, as well as reducing unwanted noise. The compressed air system also eliminates launch-related gunpowder fumes. Since fireworks do indeed still burn, guests may smell fumes, but fewer of them.

As a means of fire prevention at the Magic Kingdom Park, a sprinkler system irrigates the area surrounding the firing site before the show is performed. The rooftops in Fantasyland where more pyrotechnics are launched also are watered down before the fireworks are launched in order to minimize fire risk.

“Safety is a part of every step of the process,” said Doug Madill, Entertainment Operations manager of the Fireworks Storage Facility, “from the technical training our Entertainment Cast Members receive, to the show design, to the storage and delivery of the product and finally the actual show.”

Only Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not have a fireworks, show because it was determined that the loud noises would bother the animals and disrupt their sleep schedule.

Walt Disney World parks change their fireworks offering regularly, constantly trying to “top” previous shows in terms of visual display, music and more. The nighttime park shows last roughly fifteen minutes or a little more.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Vault of Walt: Volume 10: Final Edition  Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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