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An explosion of color in Rehoboth Beach

Zambelli crew continues to reinvent show

By Maddy Lauria and Ryan Mavity

A cool summer night in Rehoboth Beach gave way to yet another spectacular Fourth of July fireworks show - even if the show was technically on July 2.

Rehoboth spokeswoman Krys Johnson said the city estimated 80,000-plus came to the show, put on by Pennsylvania-based company Zambelli Fireworks Internationale.

Zambelli lead pyrotechnician Cynthia Ferguson said the big wrinkle this year was not one, but two finales that fired simultaneously. She said over 1,000 shells were fired off during the show plus 70 cakes, which Ferguson said are like large Roman candles. The Rehoboth show used 400 cakes tied together to shoot in a V formation.

“They get better every year,” Ferguson said. “One of the nice things about this show is it has a lot of them. We did a show the other night that used three.”

Another new wrinkle for the crew, which included Curtis Frey, Michael Kent, Michael Pukatsch, Reggie May, Anna Zitarelli, Andrew Diffley and Daniel Knotts, was a new wireless system for controlling the explosions. Before, Ferguson said, each group of mortars was hooked to a pin board, similar to an audio or light board, where she could control each group of fireworks. Ferguson said the new technology has helped make setting up the show much easier, as they are lugging fewer cables and taking less time to wire everything up.

Most of the work for the show consists of putting each group of mortars out and then wiring each one. From there, using Ferguson’s remote-control system, she can fire each group in whatever order she wants. Ferguson said the new system also lets her know which group of mortars has already been fired.

“We try to do it a little bit different each year,” she said. “For this show we have a lot of ground effects.”

Ferguson has worked on the Rehoboth show for more than 20 years, the last 10 of which with Zambelli. “I liked firecrackers when I was a kid,” she said.

For that time, Rehoboth’s fireworks have traditionally been shot from the beach in front of the Star of The Sea Condominium.

Before, the fireworks were shot from a barge in the water. Ferguson said she runs the Dewey Beach fireworks show as well, which is shot from a barge.

“One of the nice things about a barge is you get clearance,” she said. “These are two-and-a-half and three-inch shells. They’re beautiful shells, but they don’t go super high. When you do a barge show you’re so far away. That show has six-inch shells that go 600 feet.”

Beach shows can also come with their own hazards. Ferguson and the crew recall a show in Bethany Beach where their equipment was flooded out by a rising tide.

Pointing to the boxes of mortars, she said, “A couple of us were standing in the water and fishing those things out.”

The Rehoboth show is a favorite for the crew, all Delaware natives from New Castle County, including two “Claymonsters” as they called themselves, from Claymont, and Ferguson, who lives in Wilmington.

Pukatsch said he likes that 100,000 people show up every year.

“I like the atmosphere,” he said.

Ferguson said her mother has a home in Rehoboth, so the fireworks show helps her kill two birds with one stone.

“It’s the nicest show we do all year. They treat us really good,” Ferguson said. “This is my favorite show of the year.”

To support the large crowds, DART brought in 12 40-foot buses from Wilmington in addition to the seven to nine that already operate in the area. DART spokeswoman Julie Theyerl said while it is too early to know how many people used the buses, the Lewes Park and Ride was full by 6 p.m. and the Rehoboth Park and Ride was full around 7:15 p.m.

While there were large crowds, businesses on Rehoboth Avenue reported steady but not spectacular business. Josh Mellinger, owner/operator of Makin’ Whoopie Pies, said there was nothing out the door, but business was good.

Nick Caggiano Jr., co-owner of Nicola Pizza, said business was not as good as last year, but was steady. Caggiano said he thinks part of the reason for the lower business was because last year, July 4 fell on a Monday, making it easier for people to make a long weekend out of it.

“I think that had something to do with it,” he said.

Traffic dominates travel talk

Traffic almost always dominates the conversation when it comes to holiday weekends at the beach.

With the Fourth of July falling on a Tuesday this year, many locals and tourists are taking an extended four-day weekend, which means cars have been flooding the Cape Region for days.

Last year, Delaware Department of Transportation officials announced more than 1 million motorists passed through Delaware's three toll plazas, with most people traveling Friday and Saturday leading up to the Monday holiday. It was estimated those travelers paid a total of about $2.8 million in tolls.

This year's numbers look to be tracking about the same, said C.R. McLeod, DelDOT director of community relations.

“Traffic numbers aren't yet available, but we've seen heavy volume throughout the Delaware beach resorts over the course of the holiday weekend, especially during peak travel times on Friday and Saturday,” McLeod said. “Many travelers are likely taking advantage of the holiday occurring on a Tuesday to have an extended getaway.”

Downstate travel for the busiest summer holiday has increased compared to recent years. When Independence Day fell on a weekend in 2014 and 2015, DelDOT reported about 637,000 and 648,000 motorists respectively passing through the tolls.

In 2016, people traveling Friday through Sunday before the holiday accounted for about 802,000 of the total 1 million motorists, more than a 23 percent increase over weekend travel the previous two years.

More cars also means fenderbenders are more likely to occur.

Sgt. Richard Bratz of the Delaware State Police said 14 crashes were reported this weekend from the Nassau bridge in the area of Janice Road in Lewes through Dewey Beach.

The top three reasons for the crashes, most of which included property damage and not personal injuries, were due to inattentive driving, following cars too closely and people failing to yield the right-of-way.

“We have more people and traffic is slowing down,” Bratz said. “We need people to pay more attention and stay off their cellphones.”

He advised people to expect slower traffic, be alert and pay attention to your surroundings.

A peek at DelDOT's traffic cameras positioned along Route 1 July 3 showed no signs of traffic letting up. Most motorists were headed south, which means northbound traffic should be heavy as motorists leave July 4 or Wednesday, July 5.

For real-time traffic conditions, use DelDOT's smartphone app available on Apple and Android devices, or go to index.shtml?tab=TrafficCameras. DelDOT also recently partnered with Waze, a crowd-sourced traffic app.

THE VIEW FROM THE CAPE MAYLEWES FERRY didn't disappoint as Rehoboth Beach fireworks lit up the sky July 2.


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