Oak Bluffs fire chief Dennis P. Alley was especially pleased with the fireworks on Friday. The display in the night sky was the spectacle everyone has come to expect over the years. Below, Ocean Park was ready for the thousands of spectators who gathered to watch from its lush, grassy lawns.
“The main reason why we have fireworks in August is that it is a send-off, a thank-you to all the tourists and summer people who come to our town. It is a nice way to say thanks, a nice way to say we hope you come back,” the chief said.
Overcast skies and wisps of drifting fog threatened to postpone the fireworks at Ocean Park, but organizers decided to go ahead with the event, and when the fireworks display began the visibility was close to perfect. Chief Alley said: “The weather was iffy all the way up to the start. Up to the moment we fired that test shot, we were concerned. We had a window. It wasn’t rain that we were concerned about, it was fog.”
Crowd estimates were down from past years. “We didn’t have full use of the park like we normally do,” the chief said. The absence of a well-lit bandstand was notable. The structure that has been a key part of the show, the musical home for the band, stood dark as twilight turned to night. Earlier in the evening, the Vineyard Haven Band performed their annual program of brassy tunes from a makeshift platform atop two flatbed trucks parked together.
Chief Alley estimated attendance was between 10,000 and 12,000 spectators.
As early as 8 p.m., the crowds were already filling the streets approaching the Island’s most popular open park. Fireworks fans came carrying chairs, blankets and iceboxes full of soda. Fire trucks were parked at the entrance and members of the Oak Bluffs Firemen’s Civic Association carried empty boots to collect donations. As dusk neared, children broke open their light sticks and began swinging them in the air.
At Sunset Lake, a team of firemen ran the parking lot and collected $5 per car for a parking spot. Hundreds of cars filled the parking area.
At Ocean Park an orange plastic snow fence defined the safe zone for spectators, beginning some 100 feet back from Seaview avenue. Among those in the front row was the Camacho family, in the midst of a weekend family reunion.
Joseph G. Camacho, 78, of Hayes, Va., hadn’t seen the fireworks in Oak Bluffs in years. He is a retired hotel manager for the Sheraton Hotel in Hampton, Va. He was surrounded by family members from Las Vegas, Fairhaven and Sacramento. “I was born and grew up in Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Camacho said.
Seated close by was his sister, Virginia Maciel, wife of the late Tisbury fire chief, Raymond Maciel. This was their evening of remembrance. “We are having a ball,” Mr. Camacho said. The scene was only slightly different from what Mr. Camacho had experienced before.
“The grass is so lush,” he said. “I really like the way they have improved on this park.” Years back, Mr. Camacho recalled a brown, sunburnt park.
The program began at 8:30 p.m. with a large eruption of rockets, shot from the beach. This was the 25th year C.R. Pyrotechnics of Salem, N.H., produced the town’s end-of-summer extravaganza.
They began their show with the return of the “Drunk,” a large character lit and defined by colorful sparklers. The Drunk swerved back and forth, up and down, and then he fell over.
Chief Alley said: “He has been drunk for a lot of years. We’ve used that firm since 1976.” C.R. Pyrotechnics was formerly known as Carmen Rozzi Pyrotechnics. It is a business that has passed down to a third generation, from father to grandson. “The reason we use them is simple,” said the chief. “They are good about what they do, and they are safe. We have a good relationship with them.”
Fireworks were shot from the beach and from a barge a short distance offshore. A third area was set up for pyrotechnical fun. On the Seaview avenue sidewalk, the technicians had assembled a number of wooden structures that could spin, swing and shower sparks. Once the full drama was underway, it was a half hour of percussive, explosive theatre. A light breeze from the southeast kept the aerial show drifting slowly toward East Chop.
Fire Chief Alley said efforts to raise money for the show began Memorial Day weekend. “Every weekend there is a fire truck at the foot of Circuit avenue with firemen selling T-shirts and hats. All the money raised goes to fund the fireworks. Any money left over goes into two scholarship funds and a fund we’ve set up for any fireman who is hurt.”
The firemen also collected parking fees at Sunset Lake this summer for the Boston Pops concert and on the evening of Illumination Night.
For some automobile owners, getting out of town took longer than the show. Police worked all the town’s major intersections.
Fire Chief Alley said he could remember years ago when there weren’t fireworks at the end of summer. “In the 1940s and 1950s, the town of Oak Bluffs used to do fireworks. Then it was the businessmen in the town who ran it. There was a long span of time when there were no fireworks.”
Chief Alley said the firemen took up the event in 1976 as a way of commemorating the nation’s bicentennial, and it has been run nicely ever since.