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Months to plan, days to set up

BUFORD - When the dazzling display of fireworks hits the night sky, it seems like holiday magic. But as the people behind Mall of Georgia's Fabulous Fourth celebration can tell you, this amazing performance of pyrotechnics is not put on by the Fourth of July fairy.

"I highly doubt that most people know how much goes into making the show happen. It's a lot harder than even I expected it would be," said Melissa Cahill, marketing director for the Mall of Georgia.

On her end, Cahill starts planning the fireworks festivities for the Fabulous Fourth in January. She reviews the previous year's show, then plans improvements and revisions. She contacts sponsors and vendors, lines up the entertainment and activities and gets the needed permits. Then comes the challenge of the soundtrack.

"The soundtrack is a complicated process," she said. "We actually prepare the music first, and give it to the pyrotechnic company and they set the fireworks to it. Then they plan the show as it fits the music. It looks easy, but it's really pretty complicated."

This year, Cahill's planning went beyond the actual fireworks display. She helped plan an outdoor screening of "Shrek 2," to be held after the show, and came up with a strategy to help traffic flow after the celebration, with additional exits and more traffic controllers.

"We've put a focus on easing traffic afterwards for a smoother and quicker exit," she said. "It's not usually a huge problem, but anytime you have 150,000 people leaving a place at once, you've got to expect there to be a little traffic."

Pyro people

As show producer with Pyrotechnico, the company that puts on Mall of Georgia's fireworks show, John Feigert works year-round to plan out his Fourth of July. This year, he has about 113 shows to coordinate during the week of the Fourth.

It takes about four days to physically set up one show - the crew for the mall's display began working Sunday and will continue through Wednesday. They start by measuring and calculating the site for safety's sake, then boxing, loading and transporting the fireworks, called shells.

They set up the tubes, called mortars, and stuff them with shells, then set up the electric matches and firing systems. After everything's set up, the crew does several rounds of troubleshooting and safety checks and addresses any concerns or issues.

All this for a few minutes of explosions set to patriotic music.

"A lot of people probably assume that a fireworks show is just a few guys who drive out to Tennessee and pick up a truckload of fireworks and shoot them off. But it really takes a lot of logistics and planning," Feigert said. "It's a year-round effort, but when you hear the applause and the laughter during the show, you feel like that is all for you and your hard work."

Feigert has a hard time choosing between his favorite fireworks.

The brocaded crown shell - which breaks in rounds like a chrysanthemum, morphs into a weeping willow shape and appears to fall to the ground - is always impressive. But the planet shell - a pattern fireworks that looks like a planet from outer space - is also dazzling.

"Those are my two favorites to see and to put on. For the crowd, the grand finale is also always a favorite display," he said. "That is where you hear all those oohs and aahs."

Rain, rain, go away

Of all the hurdles to overcome when putting on the show, there is one that is completely out of Cahill's and Feigert's control: the weather.

Every year, there's the possibility rain could put a damper on the festivities. If scattered showers occur during the day, Cahill encourages patrons to spend time shopping in the mall between sets of the live music.

"In the event of a total rain-out, well, we don't have a plan for that because it's not going to happen," she said. "We live by the old standard for warding off rain. We cross our fingers and hope for the best."