Mom plays with fire at Stunt Ranch


Stunt Ranch“Fire in the hole!” Those are four words a mother never wants to hear. They evoke visions of exploding goldfish and an impending emergency room visit. No goldfish or fingers were lost, however, when I heard those words yelled on a recent Saturday at Stunt Ranch in southwest Austin. What better way to liven up my routine by bringing a bit of movie magic into my life?

After arriving at this expansive adventurist wonderland owned by movie special effects scientist Steve Wolf, I joined three women, seven men, and one twelve-year-old boy in a waiting room for a one-day introductory class in pyrotechnic effects. We signed the obligatory Pyro School release forms and promised that we wouldn’t actually use the skills we learned. While action movies aren’t my favorite genre, Stunt Ranch provided an exciting opportunity to peek behind the Hollywood curtain at what goes on in such thrilling movies as Spider-Man and The Avengers.

Our instructor and pyro technician Tommy Betts, qualified to handle 1.46 (g) consumer-grade fireworks, began a brief chemistry lesson. In a casual manner, he shared tales of pyro effects gone wrong and emphasized his focus on safety.

Tommy handed each person a gerb, a reinforced cardboard tube packed with pyrotechnic materials to create a fountain effect. He asked us to wrap the wires around the circuit and then insert it into an extension cord plug that would connect the other gerbs. We strung the daisy chain of tubes across an outdoor pavilion and waited for the sparks. Tommy pushed the button, and nothing happened. After troubleshooting each wire, he used a battery to jumpstart a bright white flow of fireworks like that often seen at music concerts and weddings.

Our group learned about some cool movie effects. We observed detonating methods and watched in awe as liquid-, gas-, and powder-based fireballs erupted in glorious plumes of orange, blue, and yellow smoke, just like they do in movies like Iron Man.

Stunt Ranch owns a car that reminded me of the movie Smokey and the Bandit. Rusted and charred, it’s definitely seen better days. Tommy yelled, “Fire in the hole!” and a series of loud explosions that would have annihilated any other car merely left this beast smoking.

For the finale, Tommy released an explosion that left a massive, looming mushroom cloud hanging low in the sky, to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs.’ “Pyro School is a lot like life in that there’s a lot of prep work leading up to a five-second boom,” Tommy remarked.

Pyrotechnics and motherhood have a lot in common. So much time is spent researching and planning and then, boom . . . it’s nothing like you ever expected.

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