IMPERIAL — Families and their children queued to enter the track at Imperial Valley College to find seating while carrying their lawn chairs, blankets, and snacks to watch the Freedom Fest Fireworks display later in the evening of Thursday, July 4.
One section was occupied by Ricky Contreras and his family. They set up their lawn chairs facing slightly north for a good view of the fireworks display that started at 9:30 p.m.
Contreras recently retired from the U.S. Army after serving from 1992–2018.
“To be with my family is the most important part of enjoying retired life,” Contreras said. He said he missed birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays with his family when he served around the world. “It is really a sacrifice and hard for military families. Tonight is a rewarding evening for us … I think this is an opportunity for us to enjoy the freedom that we have in our great county. Independence is really a history of defending our freedom.”
His daughters had their faces painted with stars and decorations. His twin boys played with their sisters.
“I don’t remember too many years we enjoyed the Fourth of July together,” but this evening, Contreras and his family were in the front seats for the fireworks display. “So, it is a rewarding evening for us.”
Daniel Carpenter, from Kentucky, joined the U.S. Army in 2017. His unit was in El Centro on a mission. He said he came to watch the fireworks to unwind.
“I haven’t been this up close to fireworks. That was really cool. We have fireworks in Kentucky but they were usually far away,” Carpenter said.
Independence Day, according to Carpenter, is “remembering what America is all about, how we got our freedom, the lives of men and women who sacrificed throughout the years fighting for independence, and fighting for other countries. That means a lot.”
During the approximately 15-minute fireworks display, Carpenter stood in awe as he looked up at the fireworks patterns and explosions in the sky. Later, he said, “I wish I could smell the smoke a little bit more.”
Right after the fireworks show, Andrew Lowe (U.S. Marine Corps, 2002–2008), a pyrotechnician-in-training with Fireworks & Stage FX America, and his team immediately started to stow away the racks, mortars and other equipment. The pyrotechnicians’ area was cordoned off to keep away the general public for safety reasons.
“The show was excellent. We had a lot of fun sending it up and shooting off,” said Lowe. “And I hoped the people were happy to see it.”
Even as spectators were heading home, Freedom Fest Fireworks chairman and co-founder Gene Brister still had work to do after the fireworks show. He was on his cell phone making and taking calls.
“It was fantastic. The show was memorable. It was family-friendly and you could hear the ‘oohs’ and the ‘aahs’ in the crowd. It was a great pleaser,” said Brister.
He expressed appreciation for supporters these past 29 years in helping make the event happen. “It is not us making this, it is all the community. Freedom Fest is an entity that everybody can wrap their arms around every year to make it possible and make it happen … People had a good time,” said Brister.