Mike McKibbin

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June 27, 2012
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No big bangs this year

Those looking to the skies over Rifle and its neighbors on the third or Fourth of July to see fireworks celebrating Independence Day will be out of luck. And they can blame the weather this summer.

Residents would have to go some distance outside the city to even purchase fireworks, although it is illegal to ignite them under state fire restrictions.

Planned fireworks displays in Rifle on July 3 and in the Apple Tree community on July 4 were both canceled this week due to the hot, windy and tinder dry fire conditions Colorado has experienced this year.

Parachute and Battlement Mesa residents have not had a Fourth of July fireworks display for six to eight years, said Grand Valley Fire Protection District Chief Dave Blair. Instead, a fireworks display takes place during Octoberfest activities, he said, in the fall.

The town of Silt does not offer a fireworks display.

Rifle Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Kevin Whelan said while Rifle's fireworks ignition area might be nothing but dirt, "to set the best example and just overall safety reasons," the July 3 show was canceled.

"The state has banned all fireworks, too," he added. "So it really wouldn't be the right thing to do."

Whelan said the current "popcorn dry" conditions are historic.

"We've all been watching the soil moisture levels [used to help gauge how easy fires can start and spread], and we're right on track with 2002," Whelan said of the last major drought and wildfire year in Colorado.

While the fireworks shows have been canceled, the sale of fireworks is still legal, unless Rifle City Council or the Garfield County Commissioners ban them, Whelan said.

One of two permitted fireworks stands in Rifle has decided to not open this year, while the second had their fireworks order put on temporary hold.

Pat Elliott said he decided for only the second time in the last 25 or 30 years to not open his stand by the Rifle Fireside Lanes bowling alley.

"The fire department said they thought it would be a good idea to not sell anything," he added. "We chose to go along with that."

Elliott said the fireworks stand is a "break even" operation for him anyway.

"We've always done it just because it's the Fourth of July and Independence Day," Elliott said.

If the statewide fireworks ban remains in affect, Elliott said he would not set off any fireworks personally.

"I think fireworks get a bad rap, really," he added. "The Forest Service sets way more fires that get out of control than are started by fireworks."

The problem comes when someone tosses a firework, or even a lit cigarette, out a window onto dry grasses and starts a fire, he added.

"This year is just a bad situation all around," Elliott said.

Kathy York obtained a fireworks permit on behalf of the Grace Life Church youth group. But that group has put a hold on its fireworks order to give the booth a little extra thought.

"We've done this for the last three years," York said. "We've sold them when their were restrictions and we always honor those. We tell everyone to be responsible. We count on that, instead of someone being irresponsible."

Dangerous fire conditions also led the City of Rifle to ban nearly all fires at Rifle Mountain Park, as of Friday, June 22.

Restrictions prohibit:

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire or campfire, charcoal grill, coal, wood burning stove or sheepherders stove, including in developed camping and picnic grounds in Rifle Mountain Park. Devices using pressurized liquid or gas are exempted.

• Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle, trailer, building or tent.

• Using an explosive requiring a fuse or blasting caps, fireworks, rockets, exploding targets and tracers or incendiary ammunition.

• Operating a chainsaw without an approved spark arrestor and without a chemical pressurized fire extinguisher (8 oz. capability by weight or larger and kept with the operator) and without one "O" or larger round-point shovel with an overall length of at least 35 inches readily available for use.

• Welding, or operating an acetylene or other torch with open flame (except with a current permit, contract or letter of authorization and the welding area must be barren or cleared of all flammable material for 10 feet on all sides of the equipment).

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 27, 2012 04:48PM Published Jun 27, 2012 04:46PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.