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Fireworks firms plan bigger pyrotechnics for Trump’s Fourth speech

Fireworks illuminate the Mall on July 4, 2018.
Fireworks illuminate the Mall on July 4, 2018. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration has enlisted the help of two private fireworks firms to put on an extended pyrotechnics display as part of the president’s overhaul of the nation’s Independence Day celebration on the Mall.

The approximately 35-minute show will more than double the length of the traditional fireworks event, according to administration officials, and will include an elaborate display illuminating a mile-long stretch of sky above the Lincoln Memorial. Phantom Fireworks and Grucci Fireworks will donate equipment and personnel worth $750,000, according to the two companies.

The pyrotechnics show is part of the Fourth of July celebration President Trump has helped design and rebrand as a “Salute to America.” It will include a flight show featuring the Navy’s Blue Angels and a jetliner that flies as part of the Air Force One fleet. The donated show will start at 9:07 p.m. and will be followed by one launched by Garden State Fireworks, which has a long-standing contract with the National Park Service.

“We’re gearing up for what I think we can safely say without hyperbole is going to be the biggest fireworks show that D.C. has seen,” Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said in a statement.

The two companies’ donation was made directly to the Park Service, according to Interior Department spokeswoman Molly Block.

The only comparable fireworks show in the United States is “Thunder Over Louisville,” an annual spring show held a couple of weeks ahead of the Kentucky Derby. That event lasts half an hour and costs $1 million. The Park Service’s 2018 contract with Garden State Fireworks cost $271,374, according to Litterst, and Phantom Fireworks President Bruce Zoldan noted in a phone interview that the show would be well over $1 million if the firms were charging market rates.

“We wanted to do it as a gift to America,” Zoldan said Tuesday, adding that he is aware that some see the celebration as politicized because of Trump’s involvement in the event. “We knew we could take a hit for this. But in our minds, in our hearts, it’s not political . . . I know, as the owner of Phantom, that half of my customers are Democrats and half are Republicans.”

Trump transforms D.C.’s long-standing Independence Day tradition

But the president’s involvement has sparked complaints that he is politicizing what has traditionally been a nonpartisan event. Activist group Code Pink has requested a permit to fly the huge “Baby Trump” balloon on the Mall. And some longtime visitors to the annual event are boycotting or making plans to view the fireworks out of hearing range from the president’s planned speech.

The additional Fourth of July fireworks display on the Mall will be launched from multiple flatbed tractor trailers parked on a mile-long stretch behind the Lincoln Memorial, officials from Phantom Fireworks said.

A safety zone, off limits to the public, will extend behind the Memorial roughly from Constitution Avenue to the southern tip of West Potomac Park, according to the Interior Department.

Phantom Fireworks, based in Ohio, ranks as the largest retailer of consumer fireworks in the country, with 79 bricks-and-mortar stores and about 1,500 seasonal tents and stands.

Grucci Fireworks, a sixth-generation, family-owned and operated company on Long Island, has launched displays at the centennial of the Statue of Liberty and in connection with Trump’s inaugural, as well as those of Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

Here’s what we know about Trump’s Fourth of July plans

Zoldan, who has hosted fundraisers for Democrats and Republicans, said that he and Grucci’s CEO, Felix ‘Phil’ Grucci, Jr., began discussing the idea of donating the show in late February or early March when they first heard about the president’s event.

The fireworks industry is lobbying the administration for an exemption from Trump’s proposed tariffs on Chinese goods, since the majority of fireworks set off in the United States come from China. The president has proposed new tariffs of up to 25 percent on Chinese goods, including fireworks.

On Thursday the American Pyrotechnics Association told the U.S. trade representative that Trump’s proposed tariffs on Chinese goods could severely hurt its members, and possibly curtail shows as soon as Labor Day.

Ninety-nine percent of backyard fireworks and about 75 percent of professional displays come from China, the association’s executive director Julie Heckman said last week.

Zoldan said that although he has urged administration officials to exempt his industry from the tariffs, they were unrelated to the donation for the “Salute to America.”

We offered this to the government two months before the tariffs were put on the industry,” he said. “If we got anything for offering the show, we got put on tariff list.”