Best… Fireworks…. EVER!

Lightning at English Bay

Each July, the “Celebration of Light” fireworks event takes over my West End Vancouver neighbourhood, with thousands of visitors filling every available spot on the beach and lining the streets to take in the eye-popping sights. Each night’s light show is synchronized with a specially-prepared musical soundtrack played from giant speakers on the beach.

I’ve lived in the West End for enough years to be a little jaded about the Fireworks, even though I do love the event. I’d even stopped taking photos, since it seemed there was nothing really new to capture – one crowd of revellers and burst of colourful explosions was much like the next. (Though I am proud of this gallery of abstract Fireworks views.)

However, it was clear from the flashes of lightning that pierced the early-evening sky, and the accompanying room-shaking rumbles, that tonight would not be an ordinary fireworks night.

Orange glowing sky at English Bay

A strange yellow glow seemed to illuminate the entire sky as the sun started to set. It was unusual enough that me and Christine, along with a friend, decided to head outside earlier than we’d planned, just to investigate the compelling sights in the sky.

The rain that had been pouring down for some time only got more intense, and there were regular stabs of bright lightning crossing the sky at odd angles. Each one brought cheers from the crowd of soaked but enthusiastic revelers. The sky was an eerie and uncharacteristic orange-yellow, lit not only where the sun would have been sinking – but was not visible – but all over. Our theory was that it was smoke from the distant Kelowna fires that have been burning for a few days now. It was the only explanation we could think of for such a strange sight.

We returned briefly to our apartment, then headed out in earnest to watch the show. Normally by 9:30, half an hour before the show, it’s wall-to-wall people from Beach Avenue right down to the water. But tonight, due to the rain, there were plenty of pockets of grass to be seen. We easily found a spot and laid down Christine’s oversized rain poncho on the ground to serve as a tarp.

The rain grew even more intense, and violent flashes of distant light made the whole sky flash white. Forks of lightning looked very close, yet the rumbles that followed took a long time to arrive, indicating that the storm was farther away than it appeared.

Finally, the show started – and it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The rain drove down ever harder, but it was cool and refreshing in the muggy summer air, so I reveled in the sensory experience. And the lightning and blasts of sky-filling light continued to punctuate the performance, turning South Africa’s presentation into an awe-inspiring duet between Man and Nature.

The man-made show was every bit as spectacular as always, but it was augmented by spikes of lightning arcing down in the distance to the right of the fireworks barge, and sometimes the entire sky flashing white behind the multicoloured explosions. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Rain ran in rivulets down my entirely ineffective Gore-Tex jacket, so it was all I could do to keep my camera relatively dry during the light show – thus, no pictures of the fireworks themselves. But no photo could have done justice to the multi-sensory delight that I experienced tonight.

I feel extremely fortunate, though, to have captured – against all odds with my hand-held digital camera – one representative sight, seen above – a sideways streak of lightning that was zig-zagging its way across the sky.

The rain may have kept many people away, but those who were here were treated to unique experience – and even the jaded among us, myself included, tonight could simply gape at the sky and say, “Wow.”

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