‘We haven’t given up’: Steamboat fireworks aficionado to make 2nd world record attempt
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Tim Borden knows that failure does not define a person — it is what that person does in the wake of failure that matters most.
A longtime fireworks fanatic, he has made it his mission to build and detonate the world’s largest aerial firework — a pursuit that has not come without challenges.
Following a botched launch last year, Borden and his team plan to make their second world-record attempt during the Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza on Saturday, Feb. 8. Adjudicators from the Guinness Book of World Records will be there to determine Borden’s success.
“We haven’t given up. We have every bit of confidence this thing is going to be successful,” Borden said.
The endeavor is the culmination of years of calculations and experiments, a small fortune — the amount of which he refuses to disclose, even to his wife — and lots of tape.
What went wrong
Those who watched last year’s failed launch may have seen a narrow burst of golden sparks explode just over Howelsen Hill. If not, that is because the shell did not actually leave the mortar, like it was supposed to. The fact that it failed to explode in the air was the main reason the Guinness Book of World Records adjudicator determined the firework did not set the world record.
It was not the only misfortune to befall Borden that day. Hours earlier, he tore both of his quads trying to transport the 2,700-pound firework, an injury he is still recovering from.
Fortunately, measurements taken from the mortar site illuminated what went wrong with the launch. According to Borden, there was not enough lift to get the shell in the air and too much explosive force at the time of detonation.
“The combination of those two resulted in the shell exploding in the mortar,” Borden said.
To fix the issue, Borden and his team developed a milder mixture of explosives. They also used more than 58 pages of engineering calculations and diagrams just to design the mortar.
“It’s certainly been educational,” said Ed MacArthur, one of Borden’s team members.
The owner of Native Excavating, MacArthur contributes his expertise in welding to building the mortar where the shell will sit and from which it will fire. Last year’s blast damaged the launch site, so he fortified it with another metal plate and installed metal sleeves for added strength.
At a safety meeting last week, city of Steamboat Springs officials met with Borden to discuss some of the risks involved with launching the firework and how to mitigate any hazards.
When the firework launches, and hopefully bursts, the shell will send pieces of thick, cardboard shrapnel to the ground. Deputy Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli mapped out a fallout zone with a 2,250-foot radius from the top of Howelsen. The area was chosen to protect people and buildings from debris.
As a safety precaution, the city temporarily will close a 150-yard section of River Road, which will prevent traffic from crossing the Fifth Street Bridge. The closure should last only about five minutes as the firework launches, Borden said.
Borden also told city officials he is willing to cancel the launch if inclement weather, particularly high wind, poses a threat to public safety.
“He doesn’t want to put anyone at risk,” said Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter.
Suiter acknowledged the noise from fireworks can have negative effects for pets and war veterans, saying the city is sensitive to those issues. He and Borden emphasized the firework contains no toxic material. A pickup crew will clean up the large pieces of debris that fall, and the rest should decompose, Borden said.
The current world record for the largest aerial fireworks shell belongs to U.S.-based “Fireworks by Grucci” and “Al Marjan Island” of the United Arab Emirates. The joint team launched a 2,397-pound firework in the UAE during the country’s 2017-18 New Year’s celebrations.
Borden’s firework measures 62 inches in diameter and weighs more than 2,700 pounds. He designed and built it with help from two fellow fireworks experts, Jim Widmann and Eric Krug. Together with MacArthur, the four have devoted much of the past seven years to meticulously refining their craft.
“If you spend any time around them, you will find a passion for fireworks you just don’t see anywhere where else,” MacArthur said.
Their first design was a 24-inch shell, and each year, they have launched progressively larger fireworks. In February 2017, Borden launched a 48-inch shell — the biggest shell ever launched in North America.
Trying to break a world record comes with the unique challenge of doing what no one has done before — and therefore no one is sure exactly how to do it. That means no matter how many pages of engineering or miles of tape go into the firework, there is no guarantee it will be successful. To Borden, that is part of the excitement.
“It’s an experiment. It’s never been done, so of course, there are a lot of unknowns,” Borden said. “We are just going to hope for the best.”
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