The sky was on fire over Bainbridge Island on the night of July 4. Booming displays of fireworks were enjoyed by islanders and visitors along the shoreline, in boats and wherever they could get a peak.
But not all realized that such an immense show comes down to just one man.
Robert Nitz has loved fireworks ever since he was 7, when his grandmother gave him his first firework.
This Fourth of July, however, he was sitting behind a sheet of plywood commanding the explosive display over Eagle Harbor for the pleasure of hundreds of viewers.
It’s a pleasure for Nitz, too.
He started Aurora Fireworks to support his fireworks “habit.” Now cities like Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo take advantage of his calling.
“It’s a hobby that turned into a job,” Nitz said.
It’s a tense job, making sure every wire is connected and everything goes as planned. But when the show is on, he feels that same magic as he did when he was a little kid — and he’s a little bit relieved, as well.
Especially since this year it almost didn’t happen.
A freak accident destroyed the entire stock of fireworks for not only Bainbridge Island’s show, but also Poulsbo’s. The shipping container used to store the sensitive high explosives erupted into a ball of fire after a bit of careless rifle fire ignited its contents.
The container was being stored at the Belfair Auto Wrecking yard, and someone from the business was nearby, target practicing.
After the loss of two show’s worth of fireworks, Nitz immediately got on the phone to find replacement fireworks.
He was able to replace almost every firework he had planned, except for a special order of water-based fireworks from China.
But the loss had some in the community concerned that the fireworks show would be cancelled.
“We heard the story and thought, ‘What happened to the show we just sponsored?’” said Brian Moody, co-owner of the Madison Diner. Brian and his wife Cindy were one of a variety of sponsors from the island who helped pay for the show.
“When we bought the restaurant we decided we were going to be part of the community,” Cindy Moody said. “And that means things like sponsoring the fireworks show.”
Scott Isenman of Bainbridge Fireworks, the local organization that provides the show each year, was quick to get the word out that the show would still go on.
Nitz didn’t miss a beat. On Wednesday, the barge loaded with 850 mortars, and 12 cakes was in anchored off Pritchard Park in Eagle Harbor.
The floor of the barge is sand to protect it from sparks. Spanning across it are hundreds of black-and-yellow tubes, varying in size, loaded with mortars. Wires snake across the ground, all leading to Nitz’s plywood shack where he controls the show with a computer.
He has a small batch of employees, even his father, checking lines and setting up the show.
But when dusk falls, Nitz is all alone.
The shack is all that stands between Nitz and the explosives, but it’s not the only protection he has.
“If something goes wrong, I go off the back,” Nitz laughed, pointing to the water.
It’s a job that is its own reward for Nitz. He doesn’t rely on it to make a living, however. After putting on a variety of shows each year, he is lucky to break even.
“Last year I came out minus 13.66 bucks,” Nitz said.
“It’s really a hobby on steroids, I guess,” he added.
Now that the season for fireworks is over, Nitz will get a little break before next year’s fun.
In the meantime, he will go back to his job in the mortgage field, and sing with his father in a barber shop quartet.
And he will learn from past shows and try to make the next even better — such as perhaps posting “no guns” next to the “no smoking” sign on his storage container.