The bang brothers

The Souzas light up the Fourth of July sky

For most of us, Fourth of July fireworks elicit squeals of delight, but for fifth-generation pyrotechnicians Chris and Paul Souza, they bring sighs of relief.

"We don't get to celebrate until a couple of days after, because our family is all over the country and so exhausted. We still have to recover," says Paul, the older of the two at 28.

The brothers' Rialto-based company, Pyro Spectaculars, was started by their great-great-grandfather in the early 1900s and is now one of the largest fireworks display companies in the country. Though many members of the family are involved, Chris and Paul play a big role in running the show.

With digital firing systems, homeland security constraints, and "sky concerts" (in which fireworks are timed to music), times have changed since the company's founder lit his first fuse. Chris and Paul plot innovative performances months in advance and intermix original music scores with the right number of the most popular fireworks, like weeping willows and 1,200-foot-high long-duration shells. But despite all the fancy new technology, the Souzas recognize the value of their lineage.

"This is the kind of business you don't learn in a book. It's passed down from generation to generation," says Chris, 27. "My grandmother tries to outlaw talking shop at the dinner table, but it always breaks down. It's unavoidable―we've got a little gunpowder in our blood." ―Ryan Brandt

INFO: See a Souza show at the Rose Bowl's Americafest 2005 (Jul 4; $10; www.rosebowlstadium. com or 626/577-3101)