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4:43 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Prescott cancels July 4 fireworks, Independence Day celebration will proceed

Prescott - July 4, 2014
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
People enjoyed the fireworks show during the 4th of July celebration at Pioneer Park in Prescott sponsored by Destination America.

Prescott - July 4, 2014 Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier People enjoyed the fireworks show during the 4th of July celebration at Pioneer Park in Prescott sponsored by Destination America.

The 10-day weather forecast for Prescott tells the story.

With a zero-percent chance of precipitation expected through July 4, the City of Prescott decided this week that proceeding with fireworks in the current dry conditions would be too risky.

The city put out a news release Wednesday, June 27, announcing that while the July 4 activities would go on largely as planned at Mile High Middle School, the celebration would not include the usual fireworks display.

“Based upon the scientific factors related to the lack of sustained periods of moisture and our current risk for fire, Fire Chief Dennis Light has determined that it is in the best interest of the public’s safety to cancel the fireworks,” the news release stated.

In late May, Light had said he expected to make a decision on the fireworks by July 2 or 3. But this week, he said the lack of rain in the forecast served to move up the decision.

“I didn’t see anything that would change my mind,” Light said of the hot and dry forecast. “In all of the forecasting, there is nothing on the immediate horizon.”

Noting that city officials had been getting more and more inquiries about the likelihood of the fireworks, Light said making the decision this week “was the right thing to do.”

Along with the continuing dry conditions, Light said the numerous obligations of first responders also entered into his decision. With the remembrance for the five-year mark of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy happening this week, along with the rodeo and July 4 parade, he said first responders are already busy.

Also contributing to the cancellation decision: the current Stage II fire restrictions that are in effect throughout the area. Light said the restrictions beg the question, “Why would we allow fireworks when we don’t allow people to smoke outside, or have an outdoor barbecue?”

This week’s decision comes a year after the city opted to also cancel 2017’s downtown fireworks display.

FALL-OUT ZONE

About a month ago, event organizer Eagle Events Management’s Steve Gottlieb had announced plans for a July 4 fireworks display that would have launched from two locations – the roof of the Granite Street parking garage, and the south end of the Mile High field.

Even though the plan came with a fall-out zone to ensure against fireworks-related wildfire, Light said the dry conditions could still have caused issues.

“There are a number of cottonwood trees in the area, where a stray cinder could have been caught,” Light said, adding that the scenario could have led to “a catastrophic downtown fire.”

Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli voiced support for the decision to cancel, noting in the news release: “Safety must always be our first priority.”

FUTURE OF FIREWORKS

Prescott Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes said a fireworks display is still expected to happen at Mile High Middle School — just a few months later, and well into the expected the monsoon season.

“We are pleased to announce that we are planning a fireworks celebration at the Octoberfest event on Sept. 22, in support of the Zeitz Sister Cities program,” he said.

As for future years, Baynes and Light say the city is looking at other locations that would be less risky during the typically dry July weather.

“We are looking at some places where we could manage the risk better, but we still need to vet those,” Baynes said Wednesday. “We need to find a more sustainable place, if possible.”

Gottlieb agreed, noting that the community “needs to have a discussion” about the future of July 4 displays — whether it be in a different location or using lasers rather than fireworks.

CELEBRATION WILL GO ON

Meanwhile, Gottlieb said, other than the fireworks, this year’s celebration at Mile High Middle School will go on as planned, from noon to 9 p.m., July 4.

Eagle Events Management’s website at www.prescottevent.net lists a host of activities, including 10 to 12 inflatable waterslides, live music, food vendors, and a beer garden. General admission to the event is $5 per person, and a $10 unlimited pass is available for children for use of the inflatables.

“Even without the fireworks, there will be a full day of family friendly activities planned to celebrate Independence Day,” Mengarelli said.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.