After 34 years, Big Horn’s annual Fireworks Celebration — a statewide Fourth of July Tradition — has come to an end.
Three years after being taken over by new owners, Big Horn’s Equestrian Center has canceled the fireworks show put on each year by former legislator Bruce Burns.
Burns has always had a penchant for pyrotechnics – launching the annual event back in 1987 after moving to the state full-time.
But the change in the center’s ownership means facility has seen its last fireworks show.
“The Equestrian Center was actually not really owned by me,” Burns told Cowboy State Daily. “It was owned by a trust that I’m the trustee of. And so, doing my fiduciary duty, I sold that property.”
Burns said that the new owners allowed the event to continue for three years from the date of the sale – but when the fireworks exploded in the sky above the center in 2021, it was for the last time.
Burns said that he’s always been fascinated by pyrotechnics. Having spent significant time in Wyoming in his youth on his family’s ranch, Burns learned how to safely handle fireworks and discovered a passion for the pastime.
“When I moved back to Wyoming 40 years ago, Wyoming was a fireworks friendly state,” Burns said. “So I started shooting them off again. And as I was older and had more money available to do it, I got interested in actually creating and choreographing fireworks shows.”
Burns said the first three years of the event, he just used commercialy available pyrotechnics. But then he attended a course on creating professional fireworks displays.
“I discovered an organization called Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI) and I started going to their conventions in (1991),” he said. “And the PGI has classes to teach you more about how the fireworks work, and how to fire them off, but also how to get certified to be able to shoot display fireworks – we call them Class B fireworks.”
Burns received his certification and his license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), eventually upgrading his equipment and raising the level of his annual show. He was able to synchronize the timing of the fireworks to music and coordinated with a local radio station to play the “soundtrack” during the event over car speakers or portable radios.
But the location of the event was instrumental in creating an unforgettable experience.
“I was the original owner of the Big Horn Equestrian Center,” Burns said. “And so when I designed that, I designed it with the fireworks in mind. So, when I set up the first lease as the Big Horn Equestrian Center, Incorporated, a nonprofit, I always had an exemption in there for the Fourth of July.”
Over the years, the event became hugely popular. Last year’s gathering at the Big Horn Equestrian Center on July 4 brought more than 2,600 cars, Burns said, which is a big deal in a town of fewer than 450 people.
“It became something that kind of transcended Sheridan (County),” Burns said. “I had a number of people tell me that they had relatives who would come into town specifically for the Fourth. The guy that I bought my fireworks from told me that he knew of people who would come all the way up from Riverton.”
And although Burns always staged the show at no cost, financing it with money from his family’s trust, the Big Horn Lions Club used the event as an opportunity to raise money for high school scholarships.
“The first people who were disappointed (about the cancellation of the show) were the Big Horn Lions Club,” Burns said. “ The Lions would take it upon themselves to come work on the Fourth of July, and so they would arrange all the parking and order and pay for all the porta-potties, and for the cleanup the next day, and would man the gates and ask for a $10 contribution.”
The disappointment isn’t contained to just the Big Horn community. Shawn Parker, executive director of the Sheridan County Travel and Tourism office, said the show’s cancellation is a loss for the region.
“It’s more than just the show itself,” Parker told Cowboy State Daily. “It used to be a huge community event, people would come out and celebrate the Fourth at the Big Horn Equestrian Center and there were games and activities for families and food, and all that great stuff.
“So just a huge celebration for the entire community, and of course, a solid draw for people from the surrounding area,” he continued. “It was a Sheridan County and a regional thing because it was such a huge event.”
Burns pointed out that given the chance, he would coordinate another fireworks show “in a minute,” but he said there is no comparable location in the immediate area to put together a similar event.
“I looked around the area and there are two basic criteria,” he explained. “One is a place that can take that many cars, and another, because it’s July 4, a place that you can set off a fireworks show without too much danger of setting a fire. And that’s where the Equestrian Center was great because it was 80 acres of flat green grass.”
Parker said that although he is disappointed about the cancellation of the show at the Equestrian Center, he is hoping that the cancellation of the fireworks show in Big Horn might push more people to other events in the area held at about the same time.
“Ranchester has a sort of under-the-radar event that happens out of their big park, and it gets quite a good crowd, but we’re hoping that a lot of people will take advantage of that,” he said. “It’s very hard to replace the size and scope and spectacle of something like the fireworks show at the Equestrian Center, but we’re hoping that we can retain some of that event spectacle, and just move it around the community in different places. But we know of course, there’s going to be a dip in turnout no matter what we do.”