They erupt in Target stores on opening day. They shoot from the gloved finger of a sales rep during a product launch. They cascade in iridescent waterfalls behind beaming couples in wedding pictures.
TPyrotechnic displays, once the province of KISS stadium concerts and George Lucas film sets, are increasingly brought indoors - for weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate displays. The manmade comets are feeding an American preoccupation with all things bigger, brighter, louder. In the wake of the Rhode Island tragedy, they're also raising pointed questions about the safety of such theatrics.
Though the nightclub incident was unusual, experts say the proliferation of indoor displays raises the risk of drama turned deadly, if codes aren't followed and if operators don't know what they're doing.
Most events, to be sure, go off without incident. But as footage from the Great White concert sears into the American imagination, the pyrotechnics industry is coming under new scrutiny - and bracing for a backlash. It's trying to reassure a jittery public that last week's disaster was an anomaly - the tragic misstep of a few pyrotechnic cowboys defying regulations and common sense.
Nationwide, more than 10,000 indoor shows are staged annually, with injuries "virtually unheard of," says John Steinberg, president of the Pyrotechnics Guild International Inc.
The popularity of indoor fireworks - "proximate pyrotechnics," in industryspeak - is a recent phenomenon, born of rock 'n' roll. What Jerry Lee Lewis started in the '50s, when he produced "Great Balls of Fire" from a piano with the aid of a Zippo lighter, came to full fruition at the Monterey festival in 1967. There, in his US debut, Jimi Hendrix garnered immediate fame by making a bonfire of his Stratocaster guitar.