Erik Lukens
The Bulletin

When my kids were younger, watching the annual eruption of Pilot Butte on July 4 was the culminating event in a day long binge of eating, sun exposure and pyromania. After dark, we’d pile in the car and drive around until we found a spot with a decent view, then wait in anticipation of the fireworks display. We’d wonder whether this would be the year Pilot Butte went up in flames.

I can’t remember what year it was, but our most memorable fireworks outing was spent on the top floor of Bend’s then-new parking garage. The view was as spectacular as advertised, notwithstanding the haze of marijuana smoke. And everyone seemed to have fun until somebody in the crowd unleashed an aggressive assortment of illegal fireworks. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Over the years, The Bulletin’s fireworks show surely has found a place in the rituals and memories of thousands of families like mine. Here’s hoping Wednesday’s display will make some good memories as well.

In the meantime, it’s worth considering that none of it would be possible without the generosity of sponsors and the cooperation of a surprisingly large number of public agencies. A lot has to happen behind the scenes before the first explosive is launched.

The list of public agencies involved in this year’s show includes the following: the Bend Police Department; the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department and the United States Forest Service.

A number of local businesses donate their resources as well, including Taylor NW, which will wet the top of Pilot Butte to ensure that this isn’t the year the thing goes up in flames. The company also will provide a water tender, which will remain on the site during the show.

The list of public agencies above doesn’t include the Bend Fire Department, whose role really deserves its own column. The department synchronizes the efforts of the other agencies, issues the necessary permits and even provides food on the evening of the show.

In anticipation of spot fires, meanwhile, the department “pre-plumbs” Pilot Butte by laying out thousands of feet of hose that can be connected to a water source as needed, according to Larry Medina, the department’s deputy chief of fire prevention. The risk of a butte bonfire is further reduced by an application of foam at the summit and, before that, the dedication of an inmate crew provided by the sheriff’s office to fuel reduction.

Basically, says Medina, they do a lot of mowing.

The enormous amount of work the Bend Fire Department puts into the event does have some benefits beyond the obvious. It provides an opportunity for a firefighter to serve as an incident commander, thereby gathering experience for future promotion. And at least while fireworks are being launched from Pilot Butte, says Medina, they’re less likely to be lit in people’s backyards.

Of course, he says, things tend to pick right back up the moment the show’s over.

Somebody, finally, has to pay for the fireworks themselves, which cost tens of thousands of dollars every year. While The Bulletin contracts with the fireworks company and works to organize the show, the bills are paid by sponsors. Raising the money for the show tends to involve a lot of nail-biting, as you might imagine, and this year was no exception. But businesses came through.

Fans of fireworks should be particularly grateful to the Bend New Car Dealers Association, the presenting sponsor of this year’s show. The association’s members include Subaru of Bend, Bend Honda, Chevrolet of Bend, Kendall Toyota, Robberson Ford/Lincoln/Mazda, Smolich Dodge/Jeep/Nissan/Volvo, Team Kia and Team Hyundai. This group is paying for the bulk of Wednesday’s show.

Other sponsors include Bend Patrol Services, Big Country RV, Central Oregon Association of Realtors, First Interstate Bank, Kirby Nagelhout Construction Co. and Sylvan Learning.

As displays of patriotism go, launching explosives from a giant lump of cinders is certainly a lot of fun. But in the ways that really matter, it’s far less impressive than the communitywide effort required to make it happen.

—Erik Lukens is editor of The Bulletin.