Souza Fireworks Return to PaliHi for Fourth of July

By Laurel Busby and Sue Pascoe

For more than 100 years, Chris Souza’s family has been delighting Americans with fireworks.

“I’m fifth generation,” said Souza, one of the family members who help oversee Pyro Spectaculars. “I was born into it—a tradition passed on from father to son.”

His great-great-grandfather, Manuel de Souza, started concocting his own fireworks in San Francisco in the early 1900s, and this year the company will light the skies with more than 100,000 pounds of explosives across the country.

The company still creates its special Souza brand of fireworks, but now, instead of lighting them strictly in the Bay Area, technicians set off more than one million fireworks worldwide each year.

Fireworks shells are stacked on the PaliHi quad during the day on July 4. Photo: Shelby Pascoe
Fireworks shells are stacked on the PaliHi quad during the day on July 4. Photo: Shelby Pascoe

When the News spoke to Souza on June 22, he was overseeing the loading of the fireworks that will travel to the East Coast from company headquarters in Rialto.

Souza has designed the July 4 show at Palisades High School, carefully crafting music to time with shell explosions, but that day he will be in Atlantic City.

“I will be shooting our show from two barges and a land site,” Souza said. Other family members will supervise the country’s largest Fourth of July show: Macy’s New York City production along the East River.

Souza said if Palisadians can’t attend the PaliHi show, they should watch Macy’s TV broadcast, a 25-minute show, fired form five barges on New York City’s East River. A new arrangement of “America the Beautiful” will feature Jennifer Holliday and the USAF Band.

People in the Palisades will see a new shell—“a very nice gold bow tie with a ring surrounding it,” Souza said, explaining that this firework is perfect for this location because it is a smaller caliber shell.

He said he enjoys putting together a show, selecting the music and the shells to accompany it. “It’s a medium of art that not many people get to experience, and best of all, at the end of the day, I make people happy.”

This year, the 20-minute Palisades “sky concert” is called “An American Salute.”

“There is a strong emphasis on military appreciation,” Souza said, noting that the show includes the song “Soldiers of America” by Madison Rising.

(“Somebody’s sister or brother/Father, son. . .daughter or mother (come on)/ They are the soldiers of America/They put their lives on the line/Gave up their own right to freedom/So you could have yours and I could have mine (alright). . .”)

To pull off these various fireworks events all occurring the same night, Pyro Spectaculars trains crews via its Pyro University. It recruits technicians and starts training classes with about 50 students to teach them how to follow California rules and guidelines in order to become inde- pendent contractors.

By the end of the classes, which cover set-up, site considerations, mortar boxes, finale racks, ground devices and set pieces, 12 to 16 students usually finish the course

work and are ready to work on shows. Pyro Spectaculars keeps busy through- out the year doing other fireworks displays, which can range from high school graduations to sporting events.

Over the years, the company has orchestrated the fireworks at several Super Bowls and the Olympic games in Athens, Salt Lake City and Atlanta. They also illuminated the sky for the 100th and 125th anniversaries of the Statue of Liberty.

But the Fourth of July is by far Pyro’s biggest day of the year. Across the country, more than 3,500 technicians will be working to create more than 400 fireworks extravaganzas, Souza said. “We have shows from sea to shining sea—from Atlantic City to the Hawaiian Islands.”

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