McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Precautions, planning eases fireworks concerns
Covering wildfires as a reporter, as I’ve done since moving to Garfield County in 1986, is something I’ll never forget. A few of the smaller ones that didn’t burn down buildings, I might not recall the details.
But all the emotions (yes, reporters do have feelings) came flooding back this week with the horrific tragedy in Arizona. Nineteen of the finest trained, skilled firefighters lost their lives to quickly shifting and rapidly moving flames.
Eerily similar to the 14 highly trained and skilled firefighters killed in the South Canyon Fire (that was the first official name of the fire. I think they changed it around the 10th anniversary of the fire to the Storm King Fire) on Storm King Mountain just outside Glenwood Springs on July 6, 1994. So close to the same date…
And just last month, we saw three wildfires around Rifle send heavy smoke high into the air, as this summer’s hot and dry weather hit with full force. Thankfully, no homes were lost in any of them. Most thankfully, no one was hurt or injured.
But all this was on my mind on Tuesday, when I talked to Bryan Leiran of Lantis Fireworks and Lasers of Salt Lake City. They’re the ones who produced the fireworks show you enjoyed Wednesday night at Centennial Park.
You probably know, but Rifle was the only community in the county to hold a fireworks show in honor of Independence Day this year. Every other show was cancelled due to the high fire risk.
Rifle fire and emergency officials, as well as Leiran, were very confident the fireworks show would not trigger any major fires. Mostly because the football field at Rifle Middle School where they set off the fireworks was well watered by grounds crews for Garfield School District Re-2.
Police Chief John Dyer told the City Council on Monday night that he had held several regular conversations with federal, county and local land managers and fire officials to talk about the risks. They go over the most recent soil moisture readings, which helps determine how dry the grasses and trees are, Dyer said. The city just last week reminded visitors to Rifle Mountain Park of stage 1 fire restrictions, which City Manager Matt Sturgeon said is basically the standard operating procedure year-round at the park.
Dyer said officials had thoroughly inspected the area around the middle school, and Lieran told me that included an aerial rooftop inspection to identify potential trouble spots. City parks crews cut down tall grass around the park, too.
On Wednesday, fire and city officials planned to make another inspection, Dyer said.
And perhaps most importantly, Colorado River Fire Rescue planned to have three fire trucks on the scene for the 13-minute display and afterwards.
Those precautions eased my mind some. I asked Leiran if people should worry that his show might start a fire. He said preparation and good planning is the key, and that while a few small brush fires were touched off by shows he’s helped put on in his 13 years in the business, they were quickly extinguished.
As I write this on Tuesday night, I don’t know how the show turned out. Safely, I hope. Of course.
But as Leiran added, fireworks are explosives and they can lead to a fire.
“The best thing we can do is prepare for a worst case scenario and take all the steps we need to avoid it,” he said. “The last thing our industry needs is a black eye.”
The last thing Rifle or any other place you care to name needs is another deadly wildfire. Here’s hoping all the preparations and safety measures allowed you to enjoy a good fireworks show with friends and family. And you left afterwards for a nice, safe home.
Happy Fourth of July.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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