Fourth of July fireworks show in jeopardy due to dry conditions

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“I have a plan in place and additional resources committed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office. I want everyone to understand that I think I can shoot it safely but if I don’t have the resources I need, I won’t.”

— Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston

In the wake of a wildfire that torched an estimated 2,000 acres in Moffat County earlier this week and Stage 2 fire restrictions going into effect on public lands throughout Northwest Colorado, city officials are expected to follow suit Tuesday when presented with an emergency fire ban ordinance.

The recommendation to beef up the city’s fire restrictions was made last week by Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, a day after Gov. John Hickenlooper’s June 14 executive order banning open burning in Colorado.

Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said a draft ordinance has been in the works since then.

As of Wednesday, the ordinance closely mirrored the governor’s language banning open burning and the lighting of private fireworks.

The ban does not apply to campfires in constructed, permanent fire pits or fire grates within developed camp and picnic grounds or recreation sites; liquid-fueled or gas-fueled stoves; fireplaces contained within buildings; charcoal grills at private residences; or specific prescribed or controlled burns for agricultural or irrigation purposes, Ferree said.

But with fire conditions worsening by the day, Ferree said it’s possible multiple drafts of the ordinance could be written before it is presented Tuesday to the Craig City Council.

“This is something that is evolving every day, so I can’t predict what the city council will adopt next Tuesday night, if anything,” Ferree said. “We certainly want to prohibit the use of fireworks within the city limits, and with (the BLM’s) Stage 2 restriction we’ll probably recommend council ban fire pits as well.

“But so much can happen this week to know for sure what the final version of the ordinance will look like.”

The city has implemented bans on private fireworks in the past, Vanatta said, but this time enforcement will be different.

“Officers will be instructed to take a zero-tolerance approach to the ban (if passed) because the fire danger is so high,” Vanatta said. “In previous years we’ve issued warnings to people lighting fireworks. If you’re caught this year, particularly if you are lighting illegal fireworks, you’ll be issued a summons … no questions asked.”

The potential ban on private fireworks in the city and Tuesday’s Sand Fire 10 miles west of town has a lot of residents debating the fate of this year’s Fourth of July fireworks show.

“The public is split,” Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said. “Some are OK with the show going on if the fire department has a contingency plan in place, others believe it isn’t worth the risk.”

Although Hickenlooper’s executive order allows county sheriffs to issue burn permits in their jurisdictions, Jantz said Wednesday such permits are no longer available to Moffat County residents.

But a permit for a Fourth of July fireworks show was issued about two weeks ago to the Craig Rural Fire Protection District, Jantz said.

Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Bill Johnston is tasked with fire safety for the event and said Wednesday that having been issued a permit for the show does not mean it will take place.

“I have a plan in place and additional resources committed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office,” Johnston said. “I want everyone to understand that I think I can shoot it safely but if I don’t have the resources I need, I won’t.”

Johnston said he would continue to work closely with city, county and BLM officials in the weeks leading up to July 4 and that agencies will assess conditions “hour by hour.”

“It’s very precarious if the show will go off,” Johnston said. “I’m not interested in lighting the whole district on fire for a July 4th celebration.”

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