by Kyle Stinnett
Ken Wilkinson was born in Illinois but has lived in Colorado since the age of 2. Ken was raised in Colorado Springs and lived there until he was 26. While spending a small amount of time in Silverthorne, Ken has made his home in Kremmling for the past 24 years.
Being a volunteer firefighter with the Kremmling Fire Department, Ken has spent the past 21 years helping with the Kremmling firework show. Ken stated in an interview, “I started shooting fireworks with Kremmling Fire. At the time, the department was in charge of the show. Eventually, we became short-handed on volunteers for the department and did not have enough people to operate the show and cover the district. In 2011, I formed Fire in the Sky and got the necessary licenses to buy and shoot fireworks. My fireworks crew is primarily made up of my wife and kids. We shoot an average of 5 shows a year around Grand County.”
Most families spend the Fourth of July barbecuing, spitting watermelon seeds, and enjoying the day off. But not the Wilkinson family (consisting of Ken, his wife, Kendra, and his three children, Jill, Andrew, and Galen). Setting up Kremmling’s annual firework show is a job that begins early in the morning and lasts until the show begins, though preparation for the show actually starts months earlier with equipment maintenance, choreography, and squibbing (the process of inserting an electronic match into each firework’s fuse). The day before the show, all of the fireworks racks are moved onto the cliffs and carefully spaced out according to the choreography of the show. The tubes for the 10-, 12-, and 16-inch fireworks have to be buried in the ground in order to withstand the massive impact created by larger fireworks.
Ken shared with us one of his fondest and most frightening moments in an interview, “The craziest part of shooting a show is when there is a “low break.” That is when a shell for some reason breaks before it gets high enough. Usually, it makes a different sound coming out of the tube and everyone hears it and yells out ‘low break’ and ducks.”
“One year, Kendra and I were about 100 feet away from a 6-inch salute that broke about 100 feet in the air. It should have been 600 feet high.” Ken stated.
Ken continued explaining, “A salute is a shot that makes a very bright flash and loud noise but no other color or effect. It broke so early that none of us had any warning. After the shock of the break, I said, ‘Low break,’ and Kendra looked at my stunned face and said, ‘Really!’”
Ken shared that the important news for this year is that the show will be choreographed to music. The audience can tune their radio to 87.9 FM wherever they are in town to hear the music. Ken noted that “This will be the 7th year we have shot off a 16-inch shell, the largest shell available to buy. Anything larger would have to be custom-built. I don’t know how many are shot in Colorado, but based on what my supplier says, I would guess fewer than 10.”
Fire in the Sky is a spectacular event that should not be missed. It will begin on Monday, July 4, 2022, at nightfall (sometime between 9:30 and 10 p.m.) Be sure to get to your destination early to grab good seats and enjoy the festivities in the Town Square from 5 to 10 p.m.
Kremmling Fire Department is also looking for volunteer firefighters! If you have been inspired by Ken’s story and want to support your community here in Kremmling, contact Chief Brady Mathis at email@example.com or call 970-406-0208.