Blue smoke rises from a roped-off field. It’s not quite dark at Boom City. Sparks fly in the supervised lighting area. There’s a steady sizzle of fountains, with their white-hot showers. A snappy pop-pop signals firecrackers being lit. Every now and then — kaboom — a deafening blast rocks the place.
“Once it gets dark, there’s a crowd,” said Mike Pablo, head of security at Boom City Fireworks on the Tulalip reservation. The 40-year-old Pablo heads a team that includes a safety crew in the lighting area, where people may legally detonate what they buy. There are parking lot flaggers and other security.
Boom City, just west of the Tulalip Resort Casino, is a temporary fireworks market that opens every summer, plus a week before New Year’s. With 105 fireworks stands and about a dozen food and other vendors, it opened June 15 and will operate through the Fourth of July.
Tribal members’ own stands make up Boom City. “Each stand owner buys their own fireworks and makes their own profit,” said Eliza Davis, a member of the tribes’ Boom City Committee that oversees the operation.
“Boom City becomes a big part of people’s lives,” said Davis, 37. She remembers helping in her parents’ fireworks stand as a girl. A former Native American liaison with the Marysville School District, Davis said her own stand — called Fireworks That Rock — has helped supplement her income.
“This is the same for many families,” she said. “And it’s good getting to spend time with family and the community.”
Santee Shopbell, 29, juggles work for a Boom City food vendor with his regular job as a table game supervisor at Tulalip Resort Casino. He also has boyhood memories of his parents selling fireworks, toys and candies. “I loved it. Everybody knows each other,” said Shopbell, whose brother Hazen Shopbell runs a fireworks stand.
Reservation fireworks are less restricted than those sold elsewhere in Washington. But there are rules, and some devices that aren’t allowed. As sovereign tribal land, the reservation is subject only to federal laws. As long as Boom City stands comply with federal law, fireworks that are illegal under state law are legal on the reservation.
Boom City sellers are regulated by the Fireworks Code of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington. Stand owners must be licensed by the Tulalip Tribes, be enrolled tribal members and at least 18. Although Davis was helping her parents sell at age 10, that’s no longer allowed. Helpers must be older than 16.
The code’s Article 5 spells out banned devices, among them M-80s and cherry bombs. Also, the code authorizes tribal officials and tribal law enforcement to enter and search any licensee’s fireworks stand.
Tony Hatch, 48, has been selling at Boom City since the mid-1980s. Bans on fireworks in neighboring cities, including Marysville and Everett, “are hurting us a little bit,” he said.
Supplying Boom City’s retail stands are about 10 wholesalers, on site, from around the country. Brands include Black Cat, Pyro King, Great Grizzly, Winda, America’s Best, Phantom, Warrior and Brothers. Tribal members have also gotten into the wholesale business, with Nativeworks and Brickhouse brands, Davis said.
“It’s fun. It’s part of the holiday. We come out every year,” Samantha Corbin said. The Edmonds-area woman was at Boom City on Wednesday shopping with her husband, Mike, and sons Matthew, 16, and 13-year-old Zachary.
Corbin said her family plans to shoot off their Boom City purchases on the Fourth at a family member’s place at Lake Stevens. “Be smart and sane about it with your kids,” she said.
The lighting area, the size of two to three football fields, is sectioned off, with a “kid zone,” a novelty area for spinners and such, and a place for “the big stuff — 200-gram cakes and big Roman candles,” Pablo said. “Cakes” are also known as repeaters or multishots that have one fuse to ignite a chained sequence of bursts.
“My wife and I bring our family,” said Bill Freeburg, 64, who came to Boom City from his home in Everett’s Silver Lake area to see fireworks Tuesday night. “I’m just a pyro nut,” he added.
As darkness fell Tuesday, Boom City wholesalers set off a memorial display that lit up the sky. The tribute honored several deceased Boom City stand owners. “There are quite a few memorial shows for our loved ones,” said Alex Jimenez, 31, whose stand is called Shadow of Destruction. “Tulalip is a small, tight-knit community.”
Boom City started in the late 1970s at a previous site near Tulalip Bay.
Louie Pablo, 59, said his stand is called Louie Louie to memorialize his son, who shared his name and was killed in a car accident nearly 20 years ago. Louie Pablo said he started selling fireworks in the the mid-1970s from the trunk of his car “in front of my mom’s house.” Along with running his stand, painted with a distinct Sasquatch, he now transports the stands to the site every year.
“A lot of people still want to do fireworks. People still want to celebrate their independence,” Jimenez said.
From the edge of the lighting area, Mike Pablo yelled out a question to a boy heading toward the field with fireworks. Holding up both hands and wiggling his fingers, Pablo said “You got all these?” The boy, a young teen, held up his own fingers in reply. “I want to see them all when you get back,” Mike Pablo shouted.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go