Las Fallas: The Pyrotechnic Prowess of Valencia

When I first heard of Las Fallas, held each March in Valencia, Spain, I could almost smell the smoke. The term “fallas” comes from Latin “facula”, meaning “torch”. Of course I wanted to go! I love fire and pyrotechnics!

Karen and Arlo falla castielfabibBurning Man got the opportunity to join and collaborate with the event this year, and my hand went up right away. This trip had been on my life’s to-do list for a long time.

When I travel, I like to look at it through the lens of what I refer to as my “Three Principles of Travel”. What are these three principles, you might ask?

1. Create and foster community through the element of fire.

Fire — in the proper format — has always brought people together. That may be as simple as a group gathered around a campfire for warmth, safety, or the preparation of a meal. Around the fire, people talk and plans are made. Those plans may lead to the creation of new social groups or ideas as big as a pyramids or the Burning Man temples.

In Valencia for Las Fallas, this fostering of community starts right away as each neighborhood forms a group referred to as the “Falleros” who meet at their clubhouse or “Casal Faller”. This team takes on the planning of the collection of pieces (“Ninots”) that will be the focus for the coming year. The whole neighborhood can join this effort with workdays and community meals leading up to the burn (“La Cremà”) at the end of the week.


The first night of the event arrives with the raising of these projects (“Day of la Plantà”). The community sets up tables in the streets and comes together to celebrate the project. These pieces are a source of pride for each group, and everyone can lend a hand in their own way. Prepare the meal, paint the piece, or simply help carry it to the burn pad. All of this reminds me of the community that grew around the Circle of Regional Effigies project we did a few years back.

Mascalata girls

2. Push yourself right up to your limits, and then one notch past.

The use of fireworks by small children, firecrackers of all sizes, and large public aerial displays by the pyrotechnic dynasties of Valencia are vital parts of the event. From the moment you wake up at 8 am to the sounds of brass bands parading down all the streets — complete with folks tossing huge firecrackers — to the moment you fall asleep to the sound of the same firecrackers, the smell of gunpowder is always present.

As a pyrotechnician, I have heard for years about a type of pyrotechnic display called a Mascletà. These displays are almost exclusively done in Valencia and surrounding areas. The show consists of up to 7,000 20–60-gram flash salutes hung on lines like drying laundry seven feet off the ground and all interconnected with quick fuse. The show begins with the first lines of salutes being ignited. As the show progresses, more and more lines are lit, resulting in increasing waves of pressure and noise. All of this is accompanied by a large aerial salute barrage and screamer mines. Each day, promptly at 2 pm, the display begins with a call from the balcony of City Hall by the woman who represents the event all year long referred to as the “Fallera Mayor”.

The call rings out…

“Mr. Pyrotechnic, you may commence the Mascletà!”

I was lucky enough to be at show control for six of these displays, and on the first day I asked the pyros if I would need hearing protection. They gave me a stern look that questioned if I was weak. None of them were using any earplugs, so I thought, “Just go with it.”

The first fuse was lit, and it was loud! As the display passed the halfway point, the intensity increased to a level known as the “Terremoto”, or earthquake. The blasts moved closer and closer to our position at show control. I could feel the concussion of the salutes vibrating my eyeballs in and out of their sockets. The sensation reminded me of a speaker diaphragm vibrating with bass. I thought for a moment my eyes would bleed, and every part of my brain told me to put my hands over my ears. Yet no one else was doing so and I would not be the first.

Just when it reached its peak and came to an end a few feet from where we were standing, I was at the point of fight or flight… Well, I lived! And each day after that I became more and more comfortable with the show and could even manage to think complete thoughts while it was happening. It is pure pyrotechnic madness, and I had gone 20 or 30 notches past my comfort level.

3. Bring back cool stuff for your friends and family.

Of course there were many other adventures, including dressing as a red devil and parading thought the streets waving a pitchfork that spewed fireworks. There were so many good meals around street fires with new friends that I lost count.

That is good and all, but what were the gifts that I brought back to my friends and family? No one likes a traveler who doesn’t bring some gifts back.

We brought the gift of collaboration! And some cool pins…


Before the event week, Artists Karen Cusolito from Oakland and Arlo Laibowitz from Holland embedded themselves with local Fallers of the Castielfabib Association. Their hosts were Spanish artists David Moreno and Miguel Arraiz García (who will be coming to Black Rock city this year with their project, Renaissance). Featuring elements of renaissance Spain with modern playa aesthetics, it will be a great first cooperative project with the artists of Valencia. Tips for working on projects in Black Rock City flowed from us, and in turn we were brought deep into the artists’ perspective on the Fallas.

PinsI also have a feeling that after our group met with the Valencia City officials, there is a strong possibility we’ll get to bring some of our works of fire (including flame effects) to Las Fallas in the future. I was greatly inspired after meeting with the pyros there. Now that I am back, I am going to put my thinking hat on. There must be a way to bring a Mascletà to the playa! Though it may have to be scaled down a bit! (Wink…)

Of course, for my pyro friends I brought cool pins! They are large felt firecrackers with bands of the colors of Valencia!

Nice, ya?

About the author: DaveX


As a child Dave X sought out activities considered naughty by some, including his parents. In doing so he noticed that through the organization of others he could achieve greater levels of naughtiness. As he grew older Dave X was always looking behind the curtain to see who the wizard really was and how his mysterious machines worked. It was only natural that he would bring the traits of organization and mechanical curiosity together in his future work. In 1992 he was lured to the Black Rock Desert when he discovered a strange group called The Cacophony Society. Wonders and curiosities were discovered as he crossed to a new reality and he knew he had seen the future. This future was made of wood and stood tall and proud on the desert floor before taking flight to the spirits in a blaze of fire. In 1999 after several years of creating large-scale fire installations he realized that the use of fire and fuel had grown to a tipping point. He saw that the time had come to either self regulate its use or face outside regulation. Under the guidance of Crimson Rose he began his career with the Performance Safety Team and sought trainings and licensing so that he could create guidelines for the use of fire and fuels that would ensure the spectacle and ritual of their use while preventing their misuse. Dave X is now the Manager of the Fire Art Safety Team and holds several certifications for fuel management as well as being a licensed Pyrotechnic Operator.

6 Comments on “Las Fallas: The Pyrotechnic Prowess of Valencia

  • Kike Domingo says:

    It was such a great pleasure meeting you guys, understanding what’s behind Burning Man’s collective soul, and trying to transmit you our feelings and opening our hearts to you.

    Anyone is very welcomed to Las Fallas, so please feel free to come everytime your heart wants to. Let’s make this fire culture connection possible.

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  • I had the chance to speak with Karen and Arlo in Castielfabib Association and it was very interessting!

    Finally, as all the Falles, it burnt perfectly! ;)

    Thanks for coming to Valencia! This Burning Man-Falles relation has a great future!!!

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  • Jordi Devis says:

    Good article, Dave. Our history and spirit are well explained here.

    I’m Jordi and we were together “dressed as red devils, parading through the streets”. We are one of the oldest gangs of devils in Valencia, with 25 years of repectable and recognized work around our County. It was a shame that you couldn’t see our Beasts Of Fire at The Final Fire Parade because of the rain, a few hours before we burnt the Fallas with La Cremà. What you witnessed with us was the smallest Fire Parade we make, based in our brotherhood with that Falla Houseclub.

    It would be nice to be in contact with you and start a friendship with Burning Man. Maybe, one year we might go to BRC and celebrate the beauty of fire with you all. It won’t be easy, but we’ll put our hands, hearts and efforts to make it possible.

    Here, you can watch a bit of our show:

    Looking forward to hearing from you, I send you my best wishes for this year at Burning Man!!

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  • Josep Antoni Collado says:

    It was a pleasure to share with you our “Correfoc” in Falla Arrancapins. You looked (and acted) like a real “Dimoni”.

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  • Norman says:

    That was a great article Burnig Man. My family lives jn Valencia, and so I’ve gone to fallas many times. I always complain that the mazcletas are too short, but each one leaves me wanting more. And that last one on the 19th is like kissing a girlfriend goodbye before a long trip.
    Did you see the castillos at night, the fireworks shows at 1am?i assume so.
    I inform you that the Italians have mazcletas on the beach, but those are different and somewhat boring. They start out as a marching drum like beat, and accelerate to a decent finale; the whole show is aerial.

    Thanks again
    Miami, FL

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  • Kim Cook says:

    Dave X, I love your abilities as a raconteur, your such a great teller of tales, tall and otherwise! You’re a terrific cultural ambassador and I’m so happy to learn about Las Fallas through yr eyes. I can’t wait to welcome our friends from Valencia to Black Rock City again this year!

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