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Following Salida JazzFest people take in the fireworks display organized by members of the Salida Fire Department Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. The fireworks display was rescheduled due to a fire ban during the Fourth of July holiday (photo by Joe Stone).

In the Salida City Council work session on Tuesday, Feb. 18 the Council discussed alternatives for the city’s Independence Day fireworks display with Fire Chief Doug Bess and Firefighter and Certified Display Operator Dan Distel. The topic highlights both public safety concerns as well as this year’s supply challenges.

Distel is in charge of managing the firework display each year, which takes rigorous planning. Purchasing the materials is just one part of Distel’s preparations for the Independence Day firework show. He said, “Simply, my purpose here tonight is that normally, I would be purchasing our [Independence Day] fireworks right now. The fireworks we purchase are produced in China and have to be shipped by boat over to the [United States] and then transported via train or road.”

Distel continued by sharing other unforeseen challenges in purchasing fireworks; “Unfortunately, this is a time sensitive issue and on top of that if you have been paying attention to the news at all, we’re trying to buy a product to be exported out of China. The city that produces our fireworks is currently on lock down, fireworks have not been produced for the past three months and the port is closed.”

Bess said the Independence Day fireworks have also been postponed three times in his tenure as Fire Chief due to high fire danger; in 2012, 2013 and 2018, rescheduled for Labor Day weekend. Given that the Decker Fire started the weekend following Labor Day weekend on September 9, 2019, Bess believes choosing that weekend for postponement still poses a high chance of fire danger.

“It doesn’t look like wildfire and living with wildfire is going away anytime soon,” said Bess. He continued, “Many mountain communities have decided to do alternative shows – everything from lasers and drone shows.” Bess shared that although they have had successful firework shows in years past, some small fires have broken out as a result, but have never gotten out of control.

In the memorandum that Bess presented to Council, he provided insight into some feedback he  has received from the community, “There are many in the community that have expressed their concerns about fireworks and not just the wildfire danger. We have citizens that suffer from PTSD [Post traumatic stress disorder], pets that literally freak out from the explosions, and concerns about the effects on wildlife.”

The five proposed alternatives are as followed:

  1. Continue with fireworks on Independence Day managed by Salida Fire Department
  2. Contract an outside company to shoot the fireworks and assume all liability
  3. Contract an outside company to perform laser display
  4. Contract an outside company to perform a display using drones
  5. Do not provide a City sponsored public display

Fireworks create an explosion of color over Tenderfoot Mountain Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018. The fireworks display was rescheduled due to a fire ban during the Fourth of July holiday.

Bess has looked into alternatives for Independence Day firework shows offered by other mountain communities. For example, in Aspen, they scheduled a drone show. But it had to postpone the drone show due to technological issues, as well as visibility too low to fly the drones, due to the Christine Fire that took place this past year.

Bess said, “We are not really leaning any direction, we have done it for so many years that it is just another year coming up and we need to figure out if we are going to get the order placed. I think what really spurred this is the Decker Fire and people’s perception of fire.”

The City of Salida will have City representatives at the Salida Business Alliance (SBA) meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20 to receive feedback from business owners and those in attendance on which way to move forward. The City and SBA have been partners in putting on Independence Day and their feedback will be a critical part in Council’s decisions moving forward. Salida’s City Administrator Drew Nelson added at the end of the conversation that Independence Day poses the largest fire concern and that fireworks for the Parade of Lights that take place in a different season are not being discussed at this time.