By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
They can cancel him but they can’t stop him.
For the last 35 years, professional pyrotechnician and former legislator Bruce Burns has hosted Wyoming’s most celebrated fireworks show at the Big Horn Equestrian Center in Sheridan.
But after Burns sold the Equestrian Center, the new owner told him that his fireworks show was kaput. So Burns is taking his kabooms elsewhere. About 2 1/2 hours east. To a setting of cinematic glory.
The traditional 4th of July fireworks display at Devils Tower, home to the ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ movie, is already an impressive show, observers say, but now it will be something to behold, thanks to a collaboration between former colleagues in the Wyoming Legislature.
Ogden Driskill, who represents Senate District 1, has teamed up with Burns, who represented the residents of the northernmost area of the Bighorn Mountains for over 20 years in both the House and the Senate. Fireworks are their common interest.
For more than three decades, both men have organized fireworks shows on the 4th of July in their respective communities – Driskill at Devils Tower, and Burns in Sheridan.
But because of the cancellation, Burns, who is certified to handle professional-level or class B “display” fireworks, was without a show this year. But not for too long.
Driskill told Cowboy State Daily that he called Burns after hearing that his show was cancelled. When Burns said he didn’t have any plans for the fourth, Driskill hit him up.
“He was both gracious and excited about coming,” Driskill said. “So hopefully, weather permitting, we’ve got a Bruce Burns show at Devils Tower this year.”
Driskill said his mother was the driving force behind the first fireworks displays at Devils Tower 35 years ago.
“For the first number of years, we just set them off ourselves,” he said. “It was myself and a bunch of our friends that set them off, but starting around 10 years ago we started having the Hulett Fire Department do the actual ignition of the fireworks.”
Driskill and Burns had discovered their shared love for pyrotechnics while serving in the state Senate, and Driskill said that he had even accompanied Burns to the Pyrotechnics Guild conference in Gillette in 2019.
Both Burns and Driskill purchase their pyrotechnics from the same supplier, although Driskill’s show has always been a bit smaller than Burns’ massive display in Big Horn.
“My show is shot digitally,” Burns said, who has a license from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms government agency, which is required to handle professional-level fireworks, “where Ogden has traditionally been the ‘drop, light and run’ variety. I’ll shoot his show electronically, and so I’ll put an e-match on all the effects and shoot using a control panel. That way I can create more of a choreographed effect.”
Burns said the Devils Tower show will be a bit smaller than size of the shows he usually puts together, as Driskill had already purchased the fireworks that will be used on July 4.
“I’ll just organize those as well as I can in terms of a rough choreography,” Burns said, adding that unlike the shows he would put on in Big Horn, this display won’t be set to music.
“It’s shooting electronically, not digitally,” he said. “Also, I don’t have a means of having a radio station run the music.”
The fireworks display at Devils Tower is usually well-supported by local residents, according to Driskill. He said last year, the event raised over $25,000 for the local volunteer firefighters and EMTs, thanks to corporate donations and the individual residents who come out by the thousands to watch the show.
“The cars line both sides of the road all the way to the Tower, and then they wrap back around and go clear back towards the highway to Hulett and up on top of the hill, plus fill in the parking lots at the KOA and the Trading Post,” Driskill said. “I’d guess several thousand people or more.”
Burns said he’s pleased to be able to put on a fireworks display this year.
“I enjoy shooting fireworks shows, and I’m glad he’s given me the opportunity to shoot one,” he said. “I hope to improve the quality of the show for his people over, for his community.”