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Pyrotechnics Guild International opens convention with fireworks at Butler campground

Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, 11:51 p.m.
 

Brian Hughes of Philadelphia and his family have taken in fireworks shows in different cities every year for the past decade, including New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston and Baltimore.

“And now Portersville,” said his brother, Todd Hughes, 42, of Patterson. “We go to Pittsburgh fireworks every year, and we're expecting even bigger than that.”

The Pyrotechnics Guild International brought its 40th anniversary convention to the Cooper's Lake Campground outside Slippery Rock Township for what Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau President Jack Cohen described as “The Olympics of Fireworks.” The event drew thousands of fireworks enthusiasts from across the country to the first of four public fireworks displays Sunday evening.

“I am so in love with fireworks — I want to hear them, want to feel them, want to smell the smoke and see the colors — I'm like a kid,” said Linda Atkinson, 66, of Gibsonia, who was among the first arrivals setting up for a good view. “My family's here because I wouldn't give them a moment's peace until we came.”

“I hope we can see a lot of big booms and fireworks that are different than normal,” said Atkinson's granddaughter, Haley Kenney, 12.

The booming and blasting began before dusk, as numerous shells were set off from the top of a hill and others sent up sparks, clouds and columns of colored smoke from the striped tents of the PGI members-only area, where professionals learned and demonstrated their skills but the public was strictly banned.

Lynn and Ruth Baumgarten came from Blue Springs, Mo., to see the convention with their son, PGI member Caleb Baumgarten, who learned pyrotechnics at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and his cousins from Butler. They saw license plates from 20 states and provinces in the parking lot, Lynn Baumgarten said.

Last year's show in La Porte, Ind., was like “shock and awe,” he said, including non-fireworks explosives. “One guy behind us had his hat blown off just from the sound of it.”

Cohen said about 2,000 tickets were sold in advance of the first evening, which included a fireworks-accompanied national anthem, shells by Addison-based Little Big Shots, a main show by New Castle-based Zambelli Fireworks and a fireworks competition.

Cohen made five shells of his own to enter in the competition: After landing the convention, he signed up for the guild and traveled to New Jersey to learn the craft.

“This is where you can come to learn,” Cohen said. “This is my home court. If I'm ever going to do this, it has to be here.”

With about 2,000 members of the PGI and their families camping out at Cooper's Lake and others traveling to see the shows, Cohen estimated the event could bring up to $5 million to Butler County and the region.

“I think this is a great event for the county, and a great place to have it.” said Carol Hasson, selling hair accessories and jewelry from her New Castle-based Amazing Grace Accessories and Designs, one of several vendors who set up along a long path from the 100-acre field rented as a parking lot.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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