Each year my wife’s family, the Gastins, gathers for the 4th of July at Clark Hill Reservoir, near Tignall, GA. They put on a major fireworks display. This year’s was the best.
Many people celebrate the 4th with a few fireworks. Cities and towns put on elaborate fireworks displays and draw large crowds. The Gastin Family is somewhere in the middle. Their fireworks match that of a small town and aren’t as large as those exploding over major cities. The crowd that watches comes by boat, observes from their docks or sits on the shore of the lake. This display is up close and personal.
Boats filled with beer infused spectators began arriving between 10 and 15 minutes before the unannounced start of the show. The Gastin Family has been doing this so long it is a tradition and people along the lake either know from experience or have a Redneck’s Sixth Sense and can feel when the explosions are about to begin.
The fireworks are launched from the upper level of a two-story floating dock. As soon as it became dark we loaded a pontoon boat with seven adults and three kids (it is a big boat – 28 feet) and cruised out to view from the water. We were greeted by 7 pontoons, a few ski boats, a bass boat, several Jet Ski’s, a kayaker, Carolina Skiffs and a couple in a canoe.
The show runs about 90 minutes and there were cheers, boat horns blasting, clapping and whistling from a satisfied crowd. The grand finale was the biggest and best ever. When the smoke cleared the crowd gave a final round of approvals and dispersed. The boys on the upper deck piled the debris and everyone headed home.
Home for us was a rental house, the Gastin Lake House was too crowded so my wife, daughters, son-in-laws, their 3 children and our three dogs found secondary arrangements. The total crew for the Gastin 2014 Fourth of July was 20 people and seven dogs. The second house was a smart move.
At our rental, sometime after midnight, we were awakened by a call from the “Lake House”. It was reported that the dock had burned but they’d saved the pontoon, Jet Ski, bass boat and the Carolina Skiff.
What had happened was this: Shortly before midnight there were fireworks reporting from somewhere near the dock. Apparently, someone had piled unexploded munitions on smoldering debris. No one on the fireworks detail had thought to check the debris or wet it down with the hose on the dock. Thinking the report was a neighbor’s limited fireworks no one investigated.
Fortunately, the neighbors investigated and discovered the Gastin dock was on fire. One man ran to the Lake House to let the half asleep Gastins know their dock was ablaze.
Reacting to the emergency, Shirley, my sister-in-law, called 911 for the fire department while the local residence and my brothers-in-law ran to the dock to fight the fire. They’d decided not to awaken Ray, my father-in-law and patriarch, needlessly fearing the excitement would be too much for the 86 year old. In retrospect Ray said, “My family decided not to tell me my dock was going to burn down.”
While on the scene of the fire, everyone having vacated the house except a sleeping Ray; the fire department called and woke Ray. They needed more information to find the Lake House. Ray had no idea to what they were referring. Fire department dispatch said, “Your wife (Shirley) called and your dock is on fire” Ray, puzzled replied, “My wife is dead and my dock is not on fire.” Then, he hung up the phone and went back to bed.
Meanwhile, on the dock, the fire was being handled. A local, barefoot amateur firefighter paused in the action to say to my brother-in-law, “Y’all sure do put on a good firework show.” Then, he returned his attention to the problem at hand.
The blaze was contained. The professional firefighters did arrive, post-inferno, and added a stir to the char with a broken hoe handle someone had found. With that stir and a nod they departed for greater glory elsewhere.
In the light of July 5th, the damage was assessed at about 18 – 20 dock boards burnt. The repairs wouldn’t be difficult thanks to fast acting neighbors. How they sensed the fire, seems to me, is part of that Redneck’s Sixth Sense. If there are going to be explosions or fires – we know. The 4th of July 2014 is now in the record book as the best ever.