They’ll certainly go out with a bang, but the 6,000kg of fireworks that will light up the city to celebrate the Lunar New Year made an altogether quieter entrance to Victoria Harbour, the man in charge of the annual display revealed.
The fireworks were transported into Victoria Harbour on Tuesday on four barges, where they will remain until Saturday’s spectacular, after arriving by container ship in Kwai Chung last week.
“It has to come by boat, the government won’t let them come by land for safety reasons,” said Wilson Mao Wai-shing, the 51-year-old CEO of Pyromagic who has overseen the city’s Lunar New Year fireworks for 17 years.
Government official boarded the barges on Tuesday to check on the explosive cargo. With 300,000 people expected to line the harbourfront on Saturday, the second day of the Year of the Horse.
While fireworks have not caused a fatal accident in Hong Kong in recent years, the last Lunar New Year holiday saw tragedy in Hunan province, when a truck carrying fireworks exploded, collapsing an 80-metre stretch of expressway. An explosion at a fireworks factor in Guangxi in November killed 11 people and injured 17.
While the danger of fireworks is real, technology has made displays safer. Unlike days of old where the fireworks had to be manually lit, the fuses are lit using an “electric match.” A computerised network sends an electrical current that ignites a substance at the end of a chip.
The “e-match,” also allows for the precise timing that creates the spectacular lucky number eights, the Chinese character for fortune, and lucky horseshoes that will fill Victoria Harbour and ring in the Year of the Horse.
Most fireworks used in Hong Kong are now made in Hunan.
Getting the chemistry right is a precise business. The fireworks are packed with measured mixes and layers of chemicals: buffers that control the speed of the burn, the primers that combust but give off no colour, and the various nitrates that give the fireworks their dazzling array of colours, Mao said.
And for those concerned about the environmental affects, Mao says not to worry. Unlike Beijing or Shanghai where they get trapped, the wind along the harbour dissipates the chemicals fast. All the fireworks are made of natural materials like wood, rice glue, paper and clay, and the chemicals are deemed safe by the Hong Kong government. “We’re not just a bunch of cowboys,” Mao said.
Hong Kong has bans on harmful chemicals such as mercury, chromium, lead, zinc, nickel, manganese and arsenic. But the fireworks still contain barium, which can interfere with heart function and constrict the air passages, making it difficult for people to breathe.
The Environmental Protection Department confirmed that while there were small amounts of heavy metals involved, they posed no threat to public health as they were released at a high elevation and quickly dissipated in the air and water.
Traditionally, fireworks were set off to ward off evil spirits, with their loud bangs and bright lights. Now, they’ve become a reason for friends and family to gather along the waterfront and celebrate.
Saturday’s display begins at 8pm.
Major festive events during Chinese New Year
Jan 31 (Chinese New Year Day)
Lunar New Year Cup semi finals, F C Tokyo vs S C Olhanense, Hong Kong Stadium, 2.45pm
Lunar New Year Cup semi finals, Citizen Cuenca United vs PFC Krylia Sovetov Samara, Hong Kong Stadium, 5.15pm
Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade, starting at the Hongkong Cultural Centre piazza, 8pm
Jan 31 to Feb 14
Hong Kong Well-wishing Festival highlighting wishing-placards throwing, Lam Tsuen in Taipo
Che Kung Festival – Che Kung Temple, Shatin, 7am – 6pm
Washington Redskins Cheerleaders performance, Elements shopping centre, 3.30pm
2014 Lunar New Year Fireworks Display, Victoria Harbour, 8pm
2014 Chinese New Year Race Day, Shatin Racecourse, 11am-6pm
Performances by Bicycle Showband from the Nehterlands, Pak Shek Kok Waterfront Promenade, Science Park, 6pm
Lunar New Year Cup 3rd place play off, Hong Kong Stadium, 2.45pm
Lunar New Year Cup final, Hong Kong Stadium, 5.15pm