Virus outbreak could affect fireworks supplies in U.S.

Fireworks are an integral part of summer in America, but could those celebrations be in jeopardy because of the coronavirus?

“Nobody really knows if it’s going to be a problem or not,” Bob Kellner, president of Kellner’s Fireworks in Barkeyville, said Tuesday.

Production of fireworks in China has come to an almost complete standstill in the last two months as the virus works its way through the world’s population.

Kellner said about 99% of the world’s fireworks come from a patch of China that’s about the size of Pittsburgh to Erie. While that area is about 400 miles from the coronavirus epicenter of the Wuhan province, Kellner said surrounding areas are feeling the effects.

This spells bad news for the fireworks industry, Kellner said, especially with the timing.

“Chinese production of fireworks goes in a cycle,” according to Kellner.

That cycle relies heavily on the times when countries celebrate by lighting up the night sky. Products are made for Europe before the new year, then fireworks are produced for the Chinese New Year that is celebrated toward the end of January.

Then, when workers return from the holiday break, they begin on production for the North American summer.

By the time workers were ready to return, the virus already had a stranglehold on Wuhan, and local governments in China began to shut down the industry and try and prevent the spread of the virus.

“This year a lot of their workers weren’t allowed to come back … they were encouraging people to stay home, don’t travel,” said Kellner, who has been in contact with the company’s suppliers in China almost daily.

A press release Monday from the National Fireworks Association said many of the factories are back open and looking to start production. But the release and Kellner both said this isn’t cause for celebration yet.

The release said factories that manufacture fuse and lift charge powder mixes – what makes a firework go boom – still aren’t up and running.

Adding to that, Kellner said factories still aren’t up to normal staffing levels as parents are staying home to take care of their children while schools are shut down.

Travel restrictions, in addition to keeping employees from getting to work, are also causing problems when it comes to the delivery of supplies, specifically the chemicals needed in fireworks production.

Kellner said that even once those supplies make it to the factories and the product is manufactured, there is still a chance the fireworks may not make it to the U.S. because freight ships won’t sail until they’re full. This is a major cause for concern with production hit hard across China.

While shipping fears have been a worry across the world as the virus has spread, Kellner said fireworks companies have been stressing the issue far longer than that.

Along with the production cycle, Kellner said some of the company’s shipments for the next summer will arrive in the fall, but this proved to be problematic as most ports lie within Hong Kong.

“The riots delayed things,” Kellner said as he speculated the government didn’t want to ship explosives through the already teeming environment.

“Then it went right into the virus,” he said.

Kellner’s has stockpiled enough product to get through the big shows that annual customers have booked. The company is also looking into getting product from Mexico and a few of the remaining fireworks factories left in America.

But Kellner said there’s still a part of his business that could be looking at negative effects.

“They make professional fireworks, but they don’t make the variety of products you get out of China, not the backyard kind of fireworks,” he said.

In the meantime, Kellner said the company will remain in contact with its suppliers in China to monitor the situation and help where it can, noting the company just shipped a box of facemasks to one of its suppliers.

“We just have to hope for the best,” he said.