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Firefighter doubles as pyrotechnician (w/video)

By Sara Sneath
July 5, 2014 at 2:05 a.m.

Justin Garza

Standing in front of a pin board firing system behind the Victoria Community Center, pyrotechnician Justin Garcia touched a metal stylus to pins at designated minute marks.

His eyes focused on the pin board, Garcia has never actually seen any of the fireworks displays he's ignited in real time.

"You keep your head down and hope for the best," Garcia said of his job.

Garcia has ignited Victoria's fireworks display for the past five years. But this year's $30,000 fireworks show was the biggest.

The show, which lasted close to 25 minutes, consisted of 3- to 6-inch shells. Victoria's fireworks were ignited with an electronic system. But Garcia still lights the Point Comfort fireworks display manually with a flame.

"Manual shows are sporty. Embers are falling down on you, and you have to keep going," Garcia said.

With an electronic firing panel, Garcia is able to stand farther away from the fallout zone, where hot shell casings fall from the sky. The basic safety rule for fireworks is for every inch of shell, there is a 100 feet of fallout area. For example, a 6-inch shell would have a 600-foot fallout area. A 4-inch shell would have a 400-foot fallout area.

Friday's shells were loaded in tubes by Garcia's team of nine and covered with tin foil and tarps to protect them from showers.

"I was prepared for the rain," Garcia said.

Fireworks enthusiasts stereotypically have a slight mania for lighting things on fire. But when not igniting fireworks, Garcia works as a lieutenant in the Castle Hills Fire Department.

"I like to set things on fire and put them out," Garcia said.

The aerial show, like a culmination of all holiday lights suddenly appearing, resembled asteroids and other celestial objects as fireworks shot through the sky and cascaded over the otherwise calm night sky. There was music, cheering and car horns joining in the revelry on the streets - all of which was drowned out each time fireworks shot through the air, thunderously exploding and leaving faint multicolored embers in the sky that drifted toward earth.

After the show subsided, spectators gave the performance a thumbs-up.

"It was awesome," said Mire Ramos, 27, of Victoria. "It's everything I expected it to be. My kids enjoyed it."

Ramos said she has been to the fireworks show since she was a child. Now, she has two children and is happy to share the holiday moment with them.

"Now, I bring my kids so they can experience what I experienced," she said. "Hopefully, they'll bring their kids."

Her husband, Alex Ramos, 25, is from Honduras and experienced his first American Independence Day on Friday. He said he never experienced any festival like it in his native country.

"It was very good," he said.

Advocate reporter Johnathan Silver contributed to this report.

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