|EDITORIAL: Getting Creative with Fireworks|
|Bill Hudson | 6/27/12|
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|The annual 4th of July fireworks will take place at the Pagosa Springs High School. You can view the fireworks from the baseball fields. No alcoholic beverages allowed as the event is on school grounds...
— pagosaschamber.com website
In the midst of this hot, dry summer of 2012, as forests across Colorado burst into flames, or else sit waiting to burst into flames, the state’s towns and cities are trying to figure out how to deal with the problem of “July 4th fireworks.”
The problem is not merely the hot dry weather, or the highly flammable interface between Colorado’s numerous National Forests and National Parks and the thousands of residential homes tucked up against those forest lands — we have the additional problem that nearly every spare firefighter in the U.S. is already busy fighting wildfires.
So, if your municipal fireworks show accidentally caused a wildfire in the middle of town, who would come to your rescue?
Of course, there are creative alternatives, if you happen to live in a creative town. Take Salida, Colorado, for example — the small, central Colorado town that recently won the 2012 statewide competition to be certified as a “Creative District” in a new program administered by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Like Pagosa Springs, Salida has only one significant industry: tourism. And that big American celebration known as The Fourth of July is a big deal in a little tourist town.
How does a Colorado town in the middle of a flammable landscape keep its tourists — and its locals — happy on July 4th without risking a disastrous wildfire?
The Salida City Council members no doubt had that question foremost in their minds as they pondered the annual fireworks show planned for Tenderfoot Hill, a dry, grassy knoll overlooking the city, at the foot of the San Isabel National Forest to the north, east and west.
On Monday, the Council made its decision. Due to the extreme fire danger throughout Colorado, the Salida Fire Department will not be shooting off its usual Fourth of July fireworks show from atop nearby Tenderfoot Hill. The City Council, in a special meeting on Monday evening, voted unanimously to approve a new ordinance prohibiting numerous types of outdoor fire use — including municipal (and private) fireworks displays.
Click here to download Salida’s fire restriction ordinance as approved on Monday evening.
Now, the good news.
Back in 2010, Salida videographer Charles Newcomb set up his camera atop the Salida Fire Station and made a video recording of the July Fourth fireworks show — and Michael Varnum, director of the municipally funded Steamplant Events Center, told the City Council last night that his team is hoping to project that video recording — accompanied by an appropriately patriotic soundtrack — on a large screen set up in city’s downtown Riverside Park.
Salida's City Administrator, Dara McDonald, stated that the fire restrictions will remain in force until a decision by the Fire Chief Doug Bess or the City Council that conditions have sufficiently improved. She characterized the Fourth of July fireworks show as “postponed”, suggesting that the show might be rescheduled for a later date.
Fire Chief Doug Bess encouraged the Council to approve the fire ban.
“It takes a lot of work to pull this [fireworks] show together, a lot of man-hours with the Fire Department, planning it and setting it up. But on the night of the show, we count on other agencies to assist us — Chaffee County Fire, the Forest Service — and if we proceeded to set up the show, which takes a whole day, and something was to happen in this county, or in our area, those resources might not be available. And then we’d be on top of the mountain with a show ready to go, but not enough people to protect the mountain and the area behind the mountain...”
“It’s a small sacrifice, based on what’s going on in the state right now,” he concluded.
Fire Chief Doug Bess addressed the Salida City Council...
Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order two weeks ago banning the private use of fireworks in Colorado, but the order allows municipal fireworks displays to be presented, if a local sheriff approves. The city of Steamboat Springs canceled their municipal fireworks show last week, as did Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon, Idaho Springs, and Keystone; several other Colorado communities are reporting their fireworks shows as “tentative.”
I've been unable, however, to locate any other Colorado municipality with plans to present a videotaped fireworks show.
7News in Denver is tracking Fourth of July events throughout Colorado; click here to read the latest updates.
The Salida City Council's decision to prohibit nearly all outdoor fire uses — including municipal fireworks, smoking (except inside a vehicle or building) and cooking outdoors on charcoal grills (use of gas grills is still permitted) — comes in the midst of what has, so far, been the worse Colorado wildfire season in at least ten years.
The largest fires currently burning in the state:
The High Park Fire burning near Fort Collins is now the second largest fire in state history, as well as the most destructive. As of Monday, the fire had burned more than 83,205 acres and destroyed 248 homes. The fire has cost $29.6 million to fight since it was started June 9 by a lightning strike.
The Waldo Canyon Fire is burning in the Pike National Forest west of Colorado Springs, and had blackened 3,600 acres as of Monday; it is still growing, according to The Gazette. The entire city of Manitou Springs was evacuated over the weekend because of the fire burning; that mandatory evacuation order has been lifted for Manitou Springs on Monday, but the community of Crystal Park is still under mandatory evacuation.
The Weber Fire near Mancos tripled in size over the weekend and is estimated to be burning 8,300 acres on Monday. Approximately 100 homes have been evacuated along with a campground.
The Little Sand Fire has been burning for more than a month now in rugged, inaccessible terrain about 13 miles north of Pagosa Springs; it had consumed 21,616 acres as of Monday with firefighters reporting 31 percent containment.
The Treasure Fire began burning on Saturday afternoon near Leadville, Treasure fire . 320 acres have been burned as of Monday and the fire is 10 percent contained.
The Springer Fire has burned 1,145 acres in Pike National Forest, 3 miles from Lake George; it is now 100 percent contained.
The CR 102 Fire broke out Sunday afternoon and has burned about 300 acres; it was reported to be only 75 percent contained on Monday, after earlier reports of 100 percent containment. The fire reignited in rough terrain where firefighters had difficulty battling it.
The State Line Fire is burning south of Durango along the Colorado-New Mexico border; it had grown to 350 acres as of Tuesday, and is 85 percent contained.
The Woodland Heights Fire near Estes Park is approximately 20 acres in size and was reported to be 100 percent contained as of Sunday. According to the Broomfield Enterprise, the fire moved quickly and destroyed 22 homes and two out buildings.
The Trout Creek Fire, a 25-acre fire that was burning in Pike National Forest, is now 100 percent contained as of Sunday night. 155 pre-evacuation notices were sent out Sunday afternoon.
As far as I can tell, the Town of Pagosa Springs still intends to go ahead with its fireworks display on July 4th.
I plan to be in Salida for the Fourth.
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