ST.PAULS — What started as a small fireworks display 10 years ago to entertain the families of local firefighters has exploded into something much bigger.
Several hundred people turned their eyes to the sky over St. Pauls on Tuesday as the St. Pauls Fire Department shot off a variety of fireworks that lit up the night for about 35 minutes, capping off celebrations across the county that marked this country’s 241st birthday.
“I’ve seen fireworks in cities not this good,” said Ken Guthrie, who comes to the St. Pauls celebration each year from his home about seven miles out in the country. “This show is really good. It grows larger every year.”
Elaine Fisher and her husband, Danny, of St. Pauls, said their Fourth of July activities always include coming to the fireworks show. This year they watched with family members and friends from a spot near Old Stage Road and West McLean Street, across from the St. Pauls Fire Department.
“This year’s show was the best yet,” Elaine said. “It was bigger and more consistent, and I loved the ending when all of the fire trucks were lined up with lights flashing and sirens going off.”
The fireworks show began 10 years ago when three or four St. Pauls firefighters traveled to South of the Border just over the South Carolina-North Carolina state line and bought some “little fireworks to set off” to entertain their families, Assistant Chief Chris Jackson said.
“The next year we took up a donation of about $400 to $500 from department members and we bought some bigger fireworks and turned out a bigger show,” Jackson said. “We did that for a couple of years and then the Chamber of Commerce got behind us and we began advertising for people to come out and watch.”
Firefighters from nearby Big Marsh Fire Department joined in and both departments bought the fireworks and the show began to grow each year, he said.
“Our show is now funded by a sizable donation from a single donor and the town government,” Jackson said.
The fireworks are set off by St. Pauls firefighters who are trained and certified to do the job.
“We do all this ourselves. We do it for our families and the community,” Jackson said. “We want our citizens to have something to do in our community on the Fourth of July.”
A fireworks display also was held in Rennert on Tuesday night, ending a full day of activities for people of all ages that began with a parade through downtown.
Winford Bullard, 68, who was raised in Rennert and still lives in the small community, said he never misses the chance to attend the town’s Fourth of July parade.
“It gets bigger every year,” Bullard said. “I like looking at all the bikes, horses and golf carts, and meeting all the people.”
Ricky Ray Williamson, a 60-year-old Rennert businessman, said he “makes it a point” to be present each year at the parade that first hit the street more than 20 years ago. Some years he participates with a float or antique car.
“This parade gets bigger and better every year,” said Williamson, who this year opted to sit and watch. “I enjoy it.”
Williamson called the parade a tradition that began as a way to offer children in the community something to do and make them “feel good.”
“My children grew up with this parade,” he said. “It’s a good tradition to keep up.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.