Pitkin County commissioners support sheriff’s summer-long fireworks ban | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County commissioners support sheriff’s summer-long fireworks ban

Fireworks light up the Aspen sky during the Fourth of July celebration in a previous year.

Summer fireworks displays in unincorporated areas of Pitkin County appear to be a thing of the past.

Following Sheriff Joe DiSalvo’s lead, Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday threw their support behind a perpetual summer fireworks ban, which would have to be renewed each year, to cut down on the risk of wildfire.

“Pitkin County has always been a leader in taking actions for the health and safety of our citizens,” Commissioner George Newman said. “This is probably the direction the state will be looking in the future.”

DiSalvo, who has been sounding the alarm over fireworks danger in recent months, said the idea of a permanent ban came to him as he pondered the midvalley burn scar from last summer’s Lake Christine Fire, and the possible floods and mud it could produce this spring and summer. The fire was started at the Basalt shooting range.

“I thought, ‘Why do we have fireworks at all?’” DiSalvo said Tuesday. “Without any pun intended, why do we play with fire?”

Previously, state law said governments could ban fireworks, but not between May and July 5, said Jon Peacock, the Pitkin County manager. Now a new law says a ban can apply to those early summer months leading up to the Fourth of July, though the ban must be renewed every year, he said.

In addition, the law sets out the conditions under which a fireworks ban could be reconsidered, which include high moisture content of fuels, low fire predictions for the next 120 days and good weather for seven days, Peacock said.

Scott Thompson, Basalt-Snowmass Village fire chief, said environmental changes necessitate the fireworks ban.

“We’re getting hotter and drier,” he said. “I don’t want to get into global warming or anything, but we have changed over the last 20 years.”

On Tuesday, Thompson distributed charts showing the moisture levels of various kinds of fuels in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley since 2012. All showed the moisture levels declining during the first part of the summer and reaching peak dryness around July 4.

Moisture levels tend to creep up after that with the start of the monsoon season, he said.

That means fuels are at their driest “when we shoot fireworks,” he said.

Fireworks also prompt numerous complaints about pets, and likely scare wildlife as well, Thompson said.

The fireworks ban does not apply to municipalities, though Thompson said he won’t sign fireworks permits for Snowmass Village or Basalt this summer. DiSalvo said he won’t sign any permits for unincorporated Pitkin County, either.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association already has decided not to hold a fireworks show over Aspen Mountain this year. However, the chamber asked that if the county was going to ban fireworks every year, they do so by March 1 to allow officials to plan an alternative, Peacock said.

If they need that kind of notice, DiSalvo said, the answer will always be “no.”

Newman said the threat of wildfire goes beyond “ACRA’s needs and concerns.”

“What we have to worry about is wildfire,” he said. “These fires could start anywhere. Our concerns go far beyond the business community here in Aspen.”

DiSalvo said fire danger is now a constant threat every summer.

“This is the new normal,” he said. “We shouldn’t be encouraging this behavior.”