The Night Bayfront Went Boom

By KBJR News 1

August 6, 2010 Updated Jul 4, 2008 at 6:11 PM CDT

Twenty years ago many Duluthians had a front row seat to a pyrotechnics display billed as "the Northland's biggest show ever."

As darkness fell, no one could have imagined just how big the show would be...the night "Bay Front went Boom!"

"There we go, there's the explosion...right now. I'm just shaking. It's just amazing. This is Duluth Minnesota...at Bayfront Park!"

This was the scene 20 years ago tonight, when thousands of fireworks ignited at Bay Front Park.

It happened at the start of CBS 3's late news.

And right now...we've got word from our newsroom they are calling as many ambulances to the scene as they can possibly get a hold of ...this is live television.

July 4, 1988, was celebrated across the Northland....with parades, picnics and outdoor concerts.

While the band played, the Arrowhead Fireworks Company crew worked on last-minute safety measures.

Larry Lyons says it is more dangerous to drive a car. It's actually safer than driving down the road because we know there is a danger here.

After the first rockets were launched....the crowd cheered with delight as the sky lighted up over the Harbor.
A few minutes later thousands more went off and all hell broke loose.

Imagine standing just a few feet from Ground Zero.
That's where Duluth Assistant Fire Chief of "C-Shift," Jim Ray, was standing on fire watch duty.

"I just remember that in the darkness - seeing through the smoke, the fireworks illuminating the workers down there...at least seven of them down there...I remember them running through like they appeared right thru the explosion.

Reporting for CBS 3, John Schadl and his family were at Bayfront Park.
He ran on foot back to the anchor desk to update viewers.

"There's a lot of confusion...in that area now...people have gotten separated from their family..."

Hundreds of families were gathered to watch the fire works when they exploded.

Twenty years later, many of us who watched in disbelief are still amazed no one was seriously injured.

"I grabbed the first three or four cops I could: 'is anybody hurt...is anyone hurt?' They all said 'no.' And by the second, the first one I didn't believe him...no he didn't see it. The second one I thought..ok...but the third one...I'm like...'ok' nobody is hurt!'"

Leading up to the night "Bay Front went boom"...the heavy metal firing tubes and gunpowder charges were carefully placed in a bed of sand and the fireworks themselves doubled wrapped in tarps.

"So you don't have too much trouble with that...unless it goes up a couple of feet and then it goes off - then you could have possible problems."

When a dud shell found its way under the tarps protecting $25,000 of fireworks those possible problems became viable....igniting a spectacular night of memories that won't soon be forgotten.

"Kinda like I guess you would expect...the end of the world to look like...it just ah, it just went up and I just think everybody's heart was pounding you just don't know what to think."

Addition safety precautions have been established since "Bayfront went boom."