Every Fourth of July, half a million people trek out to San Diego’s parks and beaches to watch the Big Bay Boom, one of the West’s biggest fireworks displays. But in 2012, the show became an international punchline when a glitch caused 18 minutes of pyro to go off in a blinding, deafening 30 seconds. It would become one of the loudest, most epic fails in Internet history, tweeted and viewed around the world. And for Thrillist’s America Week, we wanted to get the definitive blow-by-blow account of what happened.
Understandably, August Santore, Jr., whose 125-year-old Garden State Fireworks company took the blame for the fiasco, was not thrilled to get our call, but he indulged us anyway, because he’s a mensch. So did numerous other people involved, from producers, to tugboat crew members, to the man who caught it on video, to the competition: Sam Bruggema, whose company now runs San Diego’s fireworks show. As Bruggema put it: “Every single fireworks technician thinks, ‘What’s gonna happen when I turn on this switch?’”