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From its humble beginnings at street festivals a century ago, the Souza family has built one of the largest and most respected fireworks display companies in the world.

This weekend, CEO Jim Souza of family-owned Pyro Spectaculars, based in Rialto, will be overseeing more than 400 extravaganzas, from smaller shows in Fresno and Madera to San Francisco’s official waterfront display and the giant Rose Bowl celebration in Pasadena.

The company was conceived by great-grandfather Manuel de Sousa, who emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area from Portugal in the early 1900s and quickly made a reputation for his colorful showmanship, cooked up on the family stove, at community Saint’s Day and “Holy Ghosts Festival” celebrations. Soon, his entire family helped construct fireworks on the family farm.

Over the years, it has embraced a more complex high-tech world with sophisticated choreographies and precision firing techiques. Souza’s sons Paul and Christopher are helping create ever-more elaborate shows through their use of computerized systems that precisely launch shells that are timed to music.

The COVID pandemic nearly ended five generations of business. In 2020, only 20 of 300 scheduled July 4 events were held and Souza was forced to furlough 38 of 50 full-time employees. The Payroll Protection Program helped keep it afloat.

Now, on the eve of the nation’s birthday, business has rebounded and Souza is rushing to coordinate logistics at many far-flung events. His schedule is back to pre-COVID levels, he said.

“This is when it all comes together, after a year of preparation,” he said.

“The sky is our canvas — and fireworks are our paint.”

Q: While we’re relaxing with beer and barbeque, what are you doing?

A: We’ve got 400 shows this weekend. That represents 400 permits, 400 insurance certificates and 400 crews of pyrotechnicians that are getting ready.  Trucks are being loaded to be distributed to the various shows.

The Fourth of July represents about 60% of our revenue stream.

Q: In the winter, can you relax? This must be a very seasonal business.

A: We’re busy 12 months out of the year. We’re already preparing now for the next year’s Fourth of July. It takes a year in preparation to do these events. It’s a nonstop process.

Q: How has the business evolved in recent years?

A: We’re doing a lot more “close proximity pyrotechnics” – everything from weddings and graduations to concerts and sporting events, such as baseball, soccer and lacrosse. There are indoor pyrotechnics for stage productions. Theme parks love fireworks. Cruise lines love fireworks. So it’s growing in all different sectors.

On the other side, coming out of the pandemic, we have a lot of price increases. Insurance has gone up 20% to 30%. Manufacturing costs in China and in Europe have increased significantly. Chemical costs, for raw materials, are skyrocketing. Shipping costs have gone up from $10,000 to $30,000 a container.  There’s the constant struggle with the supply chain, causing delays of shipments and cargo.

Q: What’s your biggest challenge?

A: Labor shortages.  This not a robotic process. That would be nice. But it’s not. It’s still an ancient art.
Long Beach has about eight staff working this weekend. New York has 16. San Francisco has a large team of over 24 technicians out there, setting up at the pier.

Q: Have your techniques changed?

A: Everything that my father and grandfather used to do is called “manual firing,” where you run around with a highway flare and light a fuse by hand, then launch it in the air. It’s really exciting. But it was also very dangerous.

Shows can now be fired electronically. Every one of these devices that we use comes connected with what’s called an “e match,” or electronic matchhead, made of a zirconium compound that ignites when lit by a spark. At the bottom of this aerial shell is about 12 ounces of black powder. The shell is placed in a mortar and this will fire off into the sky.

It’s triggered remotely at a control panel. The technicians push the buttons on cue, and it all works just wonderfully.

Q: How do you design the most elaborate shows?

A: About 20% of the shows have moved to a computer-generated firing system. Those are your “large spectaculars” that are synchronized to music and may be broadcast over radio or television stations. That’s going to be your shows in the cities of San Francisco and San Diego, for instance. And also the big annual Macy’s show in New York City.

We’re even at a point now where we can have a pre-visualization of the display.  We input all of our data into a great customized computer program that can actually play it, so there’s a preview of what it’s going to look like in the sky.

Q: That sounds much safer.

A: My father was injured in 1969. He lost mobility in one of his hands, and one of his partners lost a hand.  He proclaimed that we were going to move everything into electronics. And we have done that.

But we’re still dealing with explosives. They are dangerous goods, and we must constantly be aware of that.

For generations, we’ve taught:  “Respect the product.”  With all the training and practice that we go through, we feel very confident.

Q: Tell us a trade secret: How do you create those crackling stars, with so much glitter?

It’s magnalium — a combination of magnesium and aluminum. When these metallics burn, they create sparkle.

Strontium will give you some red colors. Barium is going to give you green. Copper is blue.

There are two basic shapes. One, mostly from Asia, creates a floral shape that can change color. The other, a European style, is cylinder. It whistles, like a rocket.

Q: What’s your favorite part of the night?

A: Just observing and listening to the crowd — hearing the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs,’ and feeling the emotion that we’ve created in the sky for them.

Five facts about Jim Souza

• His family still has a “cookbook” that contains their original formulas for fireworks.

• His favorite firework is “The Golden Willow,” which uses the Japanese-style Golden Kamuro shells that burst from 1,000 feet high and fall down in a slow, peaceful and elegant cascade.

• He stores the company’s explosives out in the Southern California desert in a former Air Force bunker, behind a four-inch thick steel door.

• Some of his noted accomplishments include the 125th Celebration of the Statue of Liberty and the U.S.-based Olympics in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Los Angeles — and world tours of Elton John, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.

• Why he worries: There’s only one chance to get it right. Fireworks can be affected by temperature, moisture, wind, fog and other events outside his control.

About Jim Souza

Age: “senior citizen.”

Title: President and CEO, Pyro Spectaculars of Rialto

Residence: Southern California.  Where? He wouldn’t specify, citing “weird stuff that’s happened.”

Family: Brother Jim, sister Nancy, brother-in-law Ian, sons, nephews and cousins are all in the company.

Hobby: He’s an artist, participating in local plein-air painters association outings in his spare time.

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Coldplays Chris Martin contracts serious lung infection, cancels shows

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Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has contracted a “serious lung infection,” forcing the band to cancel their upcoming shows in Brazil.

“With deep regret, we’ve been forced to postpone our upcoming shows in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo until early 2023,” Coldplay announced Tuesday.

“Due to a serious lung infection, Chris has been put under strict doctor’s orders to rest for the next three weeks. We’re working as fast as possible to lock in the new dates and will follow up with more information in the next few days.”

The band apologized for the inconvenience and appreciated fans’ understanding but said they “need to prioritize Chris’ health” during this “challenging time.”

“We’re optimistic that Chris will return to good health after the prescribed medical break and look forward to resuming the tour soon,” Coldplay’s statement concluded.

"We're optimistic that Chris will return to good health after the prescribed medical break and look forward to resuming the tour as soon as possible," the band said in a statement.

Getty Images

"We're optimistic that Chris will return to good health after the prescribed medical break and look forward to resuming the tour as soon as possible," the band said in a statement.

Getty Images

"We're optimistic that Chris will return to good health after the prescribed medical break and look forward to resuming the tour as soon as possible," the band said in a statement.


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    October 4, 2022

    As of now, only the Brazil shows have been postponed. The band is still expected to perform a 10-show stretch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, beginning on Oct. 25, according to their website.

    The “Fix You” crooner, 45, hasn’t issued his own statement outside of the band’s public announcement. Martin’s longtime girlfriend, Dakota Johnson, also hasn’t discussed her beau’s health issue.

    Coldplay is expected to resume its tour in Argentina on Oct. 25.Getty Images

    A spokesperson for the group said additional information about Martin’s illness wasn’t available.

    Last month, Coldplay announced a plan to bring its Music of the Spheres World tour to the big screen with a global broadcast of one of the Buenos Aires gigs to thousands of theaters in more than 70 countries on Oct. 28-29.

    Filed under chris martin ,  coldplay ,  concerts ,  health and fitness ,  mens health ,  10/4/22

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