Elk Grove’s three major fireworks distributors – TNT, Phantom and Discount Fireworks Superstore – are going big this season in hopes to release the inner Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty from within a population that’s feeling blue over a topsy-turvy world dealing with a pandemic and pandemonium.
Believing that the joy of fireworks will help shake the blues by adding red and white in honor of America’s 244th birthday, these companies are rolling out a record 24 new fireworks in the Golden State this season – nearly double the previous mark.
The 2020 freshman class also includes one new limited-edition assortment, and never has there been more buy one get one free and mix and match deals to woo buyers.
That’s a lot of shapes, sizes, colors and prices among the rookie lineup, and while variety usually bodes well for fundraising non-profits running the stands, perplexed consumers will ponder the obvious questions: What’s new? What’s loud? What’s unique? How long does it last? What gives me the most bang for my buck?
Help has arrived. Our annual and unbiased fireworks buyers guide has reviews of the new items and the very best of the returning rest. For the 19th year, new fireworks are graded on a 5-star scale, judged on performance, duration, distinctiveness and value.
Promotions are noted where applicable. Every Phantom firework this season is a buy one-get one; the freebie can be the same item or any firework of like or lesser price. TNT is countering with its own mix-and-match deals plus limited-edition items in commemoration of the company’s centennial anniversary of selling fireworks. DFS, which TNT took over in California last year, save for a handful of locations up in the Redwood Coast, tends to have lower prices overall and a wider range of brands.
Here’s a star-spangled shoutout to the Sacramento Fire Department for cooperation with this season’s test. Special thanks to Fire Marshal Jason Lee and Capt. Keith Wade.
Let the sparks fly!
New for 2020
Centennial Fountain XL (TNT), $60 – Burn time is shorter than most 500-gram finales at this price point, but this special edition fountain proves that duration is sometimes overrated. Wows with a mesmerizing mélange of effects and medley of transitions – droplets to fish to crackle to birthday cake to a shock-and-awe eruption. Here for this season only. 80 seconds. 4 Stars
Colorama (DFS), $52.99 – Pretty droplets of gold, orange, green and red, and a strong crackling finish aren’t enough to compensate for slow tube-to-tube transitions and an uneven performance. 110 seconds. 2 1/2 Stars
Captain Nuclear Fountain (Phantom), $49.99 for two – Decent crackling sparks mixed with pearls, chrysanthemums, multi-colored glitter and flowers build to a less than satisfying climax. 80 seconds. 2 1/2 Stars
Living the Dream (TNT), $49.99 – Like ordering TNT’s exquisitely named Wild Side (see Best of the Rest) and saying, “make it a double.” 500 grams get you two awesome minutes of super-charged crackles, though at a dear price. 120 seconds. 4 Stars
Fiery Meadow Flower Fountain (Phantom), $49.99 for two – Proving that hybrid fireworks often make for big crowd pleasers is this combo fountain-wheel featuring titanium crackles and spinning finale. On a smooth surface, the centrifugal force makes this unique rookie rotate. 68 seconds. 4 Stars
Flower Patch Kids (TNT), $40 for two – The first few seconds are absolutely gorgeous with deep red droplets that produce the prettiest start of any California firework. The rest of the flowers in this patch aren’t nearly as beautiful. 77 seconds. 2 1/2 Stars
Take a Hit (TNT), $40 for two – Love the rarely seen lavender droplets and nice palms, but this batter got two bases on a bloop single and error. 75 seconds. 2 Stars
Jungle Flower (TNT), $39.99 – The intense crackle and vivid colors are pleasing. Just wished it had a more exciting overall and longer performance for the price. 49 seconds. 3 Stars
Pink Ice (TNT), $30 for two – Nice to see pink, but blink and you miss it. And what’s with the 10-second delay between tubes? 26 seconds. 1 Star
Revolution (TNT), $30 for two – You say you want a revolution? Not sure even Paul and Ringo would want this disappointingly short newcomer despite loud three whistles and crackling pink and blue sparks. 34 seconds. 2 Stars
War Fountain (Phantom), $29.99 for two – Colors change with each stage of fiery crackles. Great duration and intensity. 82 seconds. 4 Stars
Flower Pot Fountain (Phantom), $29.99 for two – Low-noise fountain enthralls with multicolored droplets against a near-constant shower of silver glitter. Use of blob-producing nitrocellulose reduces burn time. Worth it. 52 seconds. 4 Stars
TNT Torch (TNT), $24.99 – Judge this mundane-looking firework by its cover and you’ll miss out on beautiful – no, beguiling – shimmering golden stars reminiscent of cones from the early ‘70s. This pyro’s pyrotechnic earns “Best New Firework” honors. 72 seconds. 4 1/2 Stars
Cosmic Velocity Fountain (Phantom), $21.99 for two – Intense crackling fountain with pretty reds and greens, but needs BOGO promo to offset fleeting duration. 52 seconds. 3 Stars
Galactic Radiance Fountain (Phantom), $21.99 for two – Sub-minute burn time isn’t cool, but rest of this colorful crackle-crazy fountain is. 46 seconds. 3 Stars
Electric Manipulation Fountain (Phantom), $21.99 for two – What’s dubbed as a “silky blue explosion” in the second half makes up for an unimpressive opening of standard crackles and colors. 53 seconds. 3 Stars
Savage Fountain (Phantom), $21.99 for two – While there’s titanium crackle fountains more savage than this, newcomer satisfies with various spark types of red, white, gold, silver and green. 70 seconds. 3 1/2 Stars
Sparkle Berry (TNT), $19.99 – Cavalcade of color changes to crackling frenzy after a piercing whistle at the 40-second mark. 65 seconds. 3 Stars
Flaring Stars Fountain (Phantom), $15.99 for two – Here’s a virtually noiseless beauty featuring swarming fish effect in red, gold and green. This is a shorter version of Phantom’s late great Flying Stars. 54 seconds. 4 Stars
Old Glory (DFS), $15.38 for two – Veteran TNT fountain debuts in California rebranded as a Freedom item. Colorful and crackly, but there’s better out there. 49 seconds. 2 Stars
Toxic Barrel (TNT), $12.99 – Green toxic sludge blobs and loud crackles make this a freaky rookie sensation even with the fleeting duration. It’s your “Best New Firework” runner-up. 45 seconds. 4 Stars
Centennial Fountain (TNT), $12 – Good height, crackle, color and burn time for the price. Bummer it’s only here for TNT’s 100th anniversary of fireworks sales. 77 seconds. 4 Stars
Kool Kat (TNT), $9 for two – Billed as a new firework, it’s actually a rewrap of Cool Breeze that debuted last season and is being sold at closeout prices (see “Best of the Rest” section). 43 seconds. 2 Stars
Tornado Ground Spinner (Phantom), $3.99 for two packages of 6 – Spinning novelty sounds like fun, but if using the Enhanced Fujita Scale for tornadoes, this cyclone gets a rating of EF0. Buy a pack of ground bloom flowers instead. 3 seconds. 1 Star
Also new for 2020 … Centennial Assortment (TNT), $110.99 – The only new state-approved assortment this season features 15 respectable fountains named after oldies but goodies and clad in retro labels. Limited-time item commemorates the 100th year of fireworks sold by the Alabama-based company that would become TNT. Best in the box: Big Bomb, Freedom, Red Devil, and Ace fountains. 4 Stars
Best of the Rest
(4 ½ to 5 Stars)
Opening Show (TNT), $69.99 – Budget permitting, this envy-causing finale is a 500-gram must-have. If you think the size and price are big, just wait for the 1:40 mark. 130 seconds.
Delirium (TNT), $49.99 – 500-gram fan finale emits radiant colors and clamorous whistles and crackles. Phantom’s response is the nearly identical Coral Reef. 105 seconds.
Pyrotastic (DFS), $44.99 – 500 grams are brilliantly distributed among 12 tubes bearing diverse effects and memorable performance. Love the $6 price drop. 181 seconds.
Illuminati Triangle (Phantom), $49.99 for two – Long-lasting fountain features multi-color pearls, sprays, flying stars and titanium crackle. 184 seconds.
Brew Haha (Phantom), $49.99 for two – Beer stein-shaped fountain has what we’ll call IPA (Incredible Pryo Action) with vibrant colors and loud opening whistle. 145 seconds.
Tasmanian Cyclone (TNT), $39.99 – Crackling sparks, lots of reds, greens, blues and yellows, fish effect, smokeless globs and wide and wild finish. 106 seconds.
Psychedelic (DFS), $37.99 – Nonstop crackle, ice-white palms, multi-colored showers – crowd-pleasing fan fountain. 96 seconds.
Quiet Riot (DFS), $37.99 – Low-priced 500-gram fountain features rainbow of colors, crackles and boisterous finish. 180 seconds.
Crazy Bug Fountain (TNT), $29.99 – Last season’s “Best New Fountain” runner-up amazes with triple swarm effect. Great crackles, reds, greens and palms. 95 seconds.
Red White & Blue Jubilee (Phantom), $29.99 for two – Promised blue is more like purple, which is often the case due to the high cost of blue-producing copper compounds. Still delights with white chrysanthemums, and red and bluish fish and pearls. 110 seconds.
Wild Side (TNT), $25.99 – Like watching the super-charged final half-minute of TNT’s Opening Show for a full minute. No climax because it’s all climax. 60 seconds.
Moondance Premier (Phantom), $29.99 for two – Super-sized version of Phantom’s little Moondance Fountain. 100 seconds.
Wicked Wizard (DFS), $23.99 – Love the height, purple droplets and titanium added for sharper crackles and brighter white. 74 seconds.
Power On (TNT) and Whimsy (DFS), $21.99 – Former “Best New Fountain” goes by different names across TNT’s California brands. Electrifies with towering crackling sparks and unique fusing that moves from end to end. 85 seconds.
Retro (DFS), $20.49 – “Best in Show” winner for the second straight year. Last season’s double honoree – it was also named “Best New Fountain” – is perhaps the most exciting one minute in fountains ever. Crackling sparks push the state’s legal limit of 10 feet high and wide like never seen at this price. 58 seconds.
Serenity (Phantom), $21.99 for two – Noiseless fountain opens with lovely lava lamp-like lumps and peacefully pleases with seven colors and white chrysanthemums. 59 seconds.
Main Squeeze (TNT), $17.99 – Rookie sensation from last season gets a label makeover. Costs $3 more, but still worth it thanks to insane sparks at the 1-minute mark. 83 seconds.
Phantom Dragon Slayer (Phantom), $12.99 for two – Solid pick with white, blue and lemon chrysanthemums, rowdy crackles and red stars. 66 seconds.
Luck of the Irish (TNT), $9.99 – Performance of gold and silver spray, red and green balls, crackles and four super-loud whistles. 75 seconds.
Crickets (DFS), $2.29 – Crackle, color and lots of it. 42 seconds.
Cool Breeze (TNT), $1.50 – With a 70 percent price drop, this pint-sized powerhouse packed with crackle, color and longevity goes out with a bang in its final season. Tested same as Kool Kat (see review under “New for 2020”). 43 seconds.
For stand locations and additional product information, visit the retailers’ websites: TNT, tntfireworks.com; Phantom, fireworks.com; and Discount Fireworks Superstore, dfsfireworks.com. Elk Grove is an “open” community for consumer fireworks, but it’s always wise to check local laws and take all safety measures before buying and lighting. See the full list of communities at www.ca-fireworks.presskit247.com.