July Fourth display canceled
The grand ol’ flag will have to wave alone this year in celebration of Independence Day. On Wednesday Pitkin County announced a ban on fireworks displays.The decision was made jointly with all fire chiefs and display sponsors in Pitkin County.”This was driven by the environment and danger,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis. “Why should we add to the potential of disaster by authorizing or pushing for a display?”Aspen’s Fourth of July fireworks display has not been canceled due to dry conditions since 1994.”Back then, I was the grinch,” Braudis said. “There were more sectors of the community that thought the risk [of a fireworks display] was worth the benefit. But I’d say that about 85 percent of the citizens and visitors understood and supported the decision.”This year, attitudes have changed in the community, with the Coal Seam fire having displaced Glenwood Springs residents just 40 miles away.Canceling fireworks at altitudes like this one is rare, said Aspen Volunteer Fire Department Chief Darryl Grob, because moisture levels are usually a function of elevation.”The higher you go, the cooler it is, and the consequence is that the drying effect of warm weather patterns tends to impact us two to three weeks later than in lower elevations,” he said. “Usually on July Fourth, we’re generally fine. There are years when we’ve struggled with a decision, but we worked things out with the Aspen Skiing Company in terms of irrigating the drop zone.”But present conditions cannot be remedied at the usual fireworks venue by simply turning on sprinklers. Grob said just as it takes thousands of hours to dry out a fuel source like a tree, it would take the same amount of time to re-hydrate the tree.Grob said after the low-snow year, fire experts became concerned about the trends of the dry weather and fuels weeks ago.”Conditions are so extreme that it wouldn’t take much more than an errant spark under the right conditions for a major fire to take off,” he said. “Many fires around the state have been ignited by cigarette butts and campfires, including the biggest fire on the Front Range. It’s so volatile out there, it doesn’t take much at all.”Hana Pevny, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, could not be reached for comment on how Aspen plans to make up for the missing fireworks display for residents and guests. But according to Pitkin County spokeswoman Nan Sundeen, ACRA may not begin to plan for Independence Day until after this weekend’s Food & Wine Classic.Braudis said the cancellation is being publicized three weeks before the Fourth of July so fireworks enthusiasts can plan accordingly.”If families are committed to seeing fireworks, they find a jurisdiction that is permitting them, like Denver at Invesco Field,” he said. “But we don’t want to go down in history for being the persons who burned down Aspen Mountain.”As part of the countywide ban on open fires, Braudis said authorities will have a zero-tolerance policy for any violations, including campfires and fireworks.”I implore everyone to be cognizant of the extremely dangerous conditions in the fuels around Pitkin County, including grass, bushes and trees,” he said. “All it takes is a small spark, a little wind and we are off to a firestorm. It would take an idiot to set off any fireworks.”
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