High fire danger silences cannon | AspenTimes.com

High fire danger silences cannon

It’s not going to be the most relaxing Fourth of July for fire officials in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Signs all over Aspen warn residents and visitors about the ban on open fires and fireworks. But because Independence Day usually goes hand in hand with backyard explosives, enforcement of the law will be exceptionally tight this year.

Not even the traditional 6 a.m. cannon blast from Smuggler Mine will commence this year.

Tom Grady, incident public information officer with the sheriff’s office, said the “audio event” might encourage use of fireworks, and he doesn’t want anyone to feel like jumping on the pyrotechnics bandwagon.

“The cannon itself is not an issue to me – I just don’t want anything to encourage use of fireworks,” he said. “I just strongly ask people to use common sense. It would be like lighting a cigarette in a gunpowder factory.”

Jay Parker, who helps produce the Wintersköl fireworks from Smuggler Mine, said the group of miners who produce the annual blast on Independence Day decided Tuesday to respect the wishes of the sheriff’s office and the fire department.

“I drive every day on the country roads, and it’s popcorn dry out there,” Parker said. “It’s not the year to rattle the sheriff’s and fire marshall’s cages. It’s better to err on the side of caution and safety. Emergency personnel don’t need to be racing off to deal with us, and we might be sending the wrong message.”

But elsewhere in the county, officials are prepared for a watchful Fourth.

“I’ll have my wildfire gear in my truck,” said Aspen Volunteer Fire District Chief Darryl Grob. “There are severe hazards in the under-face conditions. I’m simply saying that I’m not taking a vacation until the first snow.”

Aspen has not canceled its Fourth of July fireworks display over Aspen Mountain since the summer of 1994. Grob said this is the first time since that summer he’s seen such dry conditions.

Sheriff’s officials are preparing for increased patrols in search of illegal flames, smoke and sparks during the long July 4 weekend.

“The Independence Day celebrations have historically involved pyrotechnics, and despite our gargantuan efforts to educate everyone and implore everyone not to light the fuse, I do believe we will have some people who disregard these precautions,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.

“One firecracker or any one bottle rocket could ignite a conflagration. So this July Fourth, I will not be as relaxed or as copacetic as in previous Independence Day events. It comes with the territory.”

Grady with the sheriff’s office said repetition of the message is the only way to get word out about the extreme fire danger, especially since week to week the local population changes by “50 percent at least, in the summer,” he said.

“This is a time when all of the fire departments in the valley and the sheriff’s office are paying very close attention to what’s going on,” Grob said. “We recognize that our best chance of success in the event something happens is to be all over it on the front end. We’re always ready for anything, but this is a really crucial time.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com.]

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