San Diego fireworks show: dazzling, but short

SAN DIEGO Fri Jul 6, 2012 6:27am EDT

All 20,000 fireworks lit the sky in 15 seconds when they were accidentally set off prematurely by a computer glitch at the San Diego Independence Day show, in San Diego July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Ben Baller/ifandco.com/Handout

All 20,000 fireworks lit the sky in 15 seconds when they were accidentally set off prematurely by a computer glitch at the San Diego Independence Day show, in San Diego July 4, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ben Baller/ifandco.com/Handout

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A computer glitch may have caused the premature and thunderous end to an Independence Day pyrotechnic show in San Diego, where all 20,000 fireworks lit the sky in 15 seconds and thousands of disappointed spectators were told the display was over.

The annual "Big Bay Boom" show, which cost about $350,000 to produce, became the talk of the town on Thursday, but not for the reason organizers had hoped.

It was supposed to last 17 minutes, with a series of explosions synchronized to patriotic music playing on a radio station, said Sandy Purdon, executive producer of the program. But instead it lasted 15 seconds, he said.

The explosives were launched from four barges in San Diego Bay and from a pier. The fireworks, all 20,000 of them, went off five minutes before the show was supposed to begin, Purdon said.

"They're still trying to dissect it, but the initial thinking is that the file, the computer file program, was corrupted when it was initiated," Purdon said.

Video footage of the mishap shows huge balls of white light over the launch points.

"It looked like the finale ... you know, right at the end they shoot off everything," said Rich Dann, a civilian Coast Guard employee who said some boaters who gathered to watch the display from the water vented about the outcome.

"A lot of people were unhappy. Some had been here all day," he said.

About 500,000 spectators were watching the show, a figure that includes tens of thousands in nearby houses and condos, Purdon said. No one was injured by the pyrotechnics.

The company that put on the show, Garden State Fireworks of New Jersey, plans to put on another show in the future to make up for the mishap and cover the cost of the fireworks, Purdon said.

"We'll recover. We'll try to make lemonade out of lemons," he said. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Marty Graham in San Diego; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)