On the Fourth of July across Colorado — and the entire country — families and friends came together to celebrate Independence Day. Grills were stocked full with hamburgers and hot dogs. Celebrants sported reds, whites and blues. And we all made just a little bit of extra room in our stomachs for homemade apple pie.
However, there was a July 4th tradition that was missing in action in many towns across the state: fireworks. In Telluride, there were fireworks after the display was canceled last year due to severe drought. But Summit County, which includes the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon and Frisco, didn’t have them. In Pitkin County and the surrounding counties and towns, officials put bans on fireworks displays and didn’t issue any permits for municipalities to have shows. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and the county commissioners have also shown support for a continuous summer fireworks ban. Commissioner George Newman was quoted in the Aspen Times saying he thinks this is going to become a popular option.
“Pitkin County has always been a leader in taking actions for the health and safety of our citizens,” he said. “This is probably the direction the state will be looking in the future.”
But there were several towns and cities in Colorado where the show went on. From Montrose to Grand Junction, to Winter Park to Denver, many municipalities thought conditions were suitable for pyrotechnics. The director of the Winter Park and Fraser Chamber of Commerce, Catherine Ross, told the Denver Channel that the fireworks are shot from a safe area and that fire officials considered the dangers and decided to go on with the show.
To have a fireworks show or to not is a big decision that Colorado communities — and communities across the U.S. — make each summer. States, and government agencies like the U.S. Forest service and the Bureau of Land Management, are responsible for deciding what kinds of bans go in place for consumer fireworks, those explosives that are sold to the general public. The main reason shows are canceled or consumer fireworks bans are put in place is because of fire danger, which is obviously higher if the climate is drier. So with climate conditions worsening and wildfires growing in size, are fireworks really worth the possible risk?
For me, fireworks have always been a quintessential part of the Fourth of July experience. Growing up in Boulder, my family and I would drive to Wyoming (where the fireworks laws are more relaxed) on July 3 to shoot off explosives for the evening. We would drive back July 4 and have a picnic near Folsom Field, the University of Colorado stadium where the fireworks were shot off by the city every year. I looked forward to this every summer as a kid. The explosive colors in the night’s sky looked like magic. Even after a 20-30 minute show, I was always sad when the illuminations came to an end and the smoke-filled sky went dark. If you’d asked the 5-, 10-, or 18-year-old me if I was willing to give up fireworks on the Fourth of July, I would have undoubtedly answered, “No!”
But I just don’t think we have the luxury any more to shoot off fireworks in areas where there’s even a slight chance of fire danger. After seeing some of the biggest wildfires ever in California last year, it’s becoming clear that we’re no longer in a position to tempt fate.
Fireworks start, on average, 18,500 fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Human-caused wildfires are growing across the West. In 2017, we were responsible for 90 percent of the forest fires in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center. As weather conditions get more intense, I think this number will continue to rise, putting lives, wildlife and property at risk. As much as I love a good fireworks show, I think we need to start thinking about pyrotechnics as a privilege, not a right. And if that means no fireworks in a mountain town community on Independence Day, then so be it.
Barbara Platts hopes everyone had a good Fourth of July, with or without fireworks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.