Pitkin County sheriff considers ban on fireworks
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo was met with a bit of resistance Tuesday when he informed chamber of commerce officials that he may ban the use of fireworks in perpetuity during certain times of the year, which includes the Fourth of July.
“It’s truly the right thing to do,” he told the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors, adding that sheriffs all over the state are considering similar prohibitions as Colorado is now considered a “red hot state” among others in the West.
Last summer’s Lake Christine Fire outside of Basalt serves as a constant reminder of how vulnerable the valley’s wildland interface can be, and how human error can change a landscape and threaten thousands of people, DiSalvo said.
That is why he is contemplating placing the ban on public and private firework displays from May 1 to Nov. 1 annually. That includes several that are carried out by individuals around the county who spend as much as $40,000 for their own private Fourth of July displays.
ACRA officials, who sponsor the annual fireworks over Aspen Mountain, said doing an all out ban seems drastic, and why not stay with the traditional route of making the call as conditions warrant?
There have been a handful of times in the past decade that conditions were too dry and fireworks were canceled in Aspen, according to Jennifer Albright Carney, vice president of event marketing at ACRA.
Chamber officials said they would rather take their chances, and carry out the display with the most professional and safe standards in place, as they have in the past.
“We are playing with fire,” quipped board member Charlie Bantis, citing concerns about tourism and drawing people here without fireworks.
“Maybe there is a compromise?” board member Jeanette Darnauer asked.
“Right now, it’s too much push and pull and I don’t want to go there anymore,” DiSalvo said of making the last-minute determination each summer. “It might be popular, but I really feel strongly it’s the best thing to do, especially in a state that’s on fire.”
Hundreds of thousands of acres burned last year around the state due to multiple fires that broke out over the summer.
DiSalvo said Colorado legislation regulating fireworks may be coming anyway, as other states have taken the lead.
He added that Pitkin County could be a leader in this area.
“We could be ahead of the state on this,” DiSalvo said. “The state is getting really active in preventing wildfires and you are going to see more of this in other states.”
A countywide ban on fireworks would not preclude municipalities, like Aspen, Snowmass or Basalt, from allowing them, DiSalvo noted.
That could be done in Wagner Park downtown or the golf course, about a mile out of town.
A light show using drones is another option; ACRA attempted it last year but wind conditions made it too dangerous.
ACRA board member Andrew Ernemann said it’s a smart idea to have the fireworks ban and said it’s up to the chamber to come up with a creative replacement that is just as much of a draw for tourists.
The Roaring Fork Club, which is the location of the fireworks in Basalt, has agreed not to have them in the future, DiSalvo said.
The sheriff also proposed the fireworks ban Tuesday to Pitkin County commissioners, who scheduled a work session on the topic for May 7 that will likely include Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service officials.
“I think it’s an interesting idea,” said Commissioner George Newman, noting that the communities of Breckenridge and Frisco have already banned Fourth of July fireworks this summer.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said she attended a meeting Monday in which officials were already expressing concern about moisture content in wilderness fuels this summer.
The large amount of snow this year is no guarantee of a low fire season, and could, in fact, prompt a major fire season, DiSalvo said. The ample spring water will spur the growth of tall grass and other fuels, which can dry over the course of the summer and create a huge fire hazard, he said.
“No one should be fooled with wet weather or because we have a lot of snow,” DiSalvo said.
firstname.lastname@example.org Aspen Times reporter Jason Auslander contributed to this report.