Fire-ravaged Arizona towns grapple with decision on July 4 fireworks - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Fire-ravaged Arizona towns grapple with decision on July 4 fireworks

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Posted: Sunday, July 3, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 10:44 am, Sun Jul 3, 2011.

WASHINGTON - Just weeks after the largest fire in state history threatened eastern Arizona, some towns are proceeding with plans for July 4th fireworks — a decision they concede could raise some eyebrows.

But local officials in fire-ravaged towns said they are pressing ahead to help residents get their lives back to normal.

“Some people are appalled, but we feel our citizens need some normality in their lives at this time,” said Becky Christensen, director of the Springerville-Eagar Chamber of Commerce.

Just up the road in St. John’s — which took in evacuees during the fires — leaders decided it would not be neighborly to shoot off fireworks this year.

“We feel it would be inconsiderate in a lot of ways to do fireworks after what happened,” said Audrey Holt of the St. John’s Chamber of Commerce. “It’s more important that we get together with communities.”

Across wildfire country, it’s a mixed bag when it comes to fireworks this Fourth of July. All have struggled with the decision, and most cities and towns around fire zones have chosen to play it safe.

In Cochise County, where the Horseshoe Two and Monument fires surrounded most towns, all localities decided against fireworks shows.

In Navajo County, officials in Winslow, Holbrook and Taylor chose to go ahead with fireworks displays — even though the fire chief in Taylor doesn’t like the idea.

For Winslow and Holbrook, geography played a role — both are in the high-desert country and neither is near a forest. The fact that fireworks draw visitors to the towns was also a consideration.

“This is a tradition that’s gone back for decades. We always have had them and it’s important for us to continue to have them,” said Randy Sullivan, Holbrook finance director. “We have a little bit of a reputation, so there really wasn’t a decision.”

But in Taylor, Fire Chief Clint Burden felt the town “needed to be an example” and cancel the fireworks.

“It’s a scare up here right now,” Burden said. “If there’s any smoke in the area, people get worried about it. We get excited to put out a fire and all it is is a diesel tractor starting.”

Burden said he came to a compromise with city officials Friday that will allow the show to go on: The city hired an outside company to do the fireworks.

“My hands are clean of it. I’m done with it,” Burden said. “I didn’t want to cave in, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy, either.”

Show Low Fire Chief Ben Owens, who was leaning toward not allowing the fireworks as of Friday, said he was “floored” by the decision of Eagar and Springerville. Show Low will make a final decision Monday on its fireworks.

“With the economies depressed, I understand why people want these celebrations. They say celebrations bring in revenue,” Owens said. “But fires don’t bring in revenue.

“I’ve agreed to play the game a little bit, but I’m hoping I can get common sense to prevail,” before Monday’s decision, he said.

Arizona State Fire Marshal Robert Barger said local jurisdictions make their own decisions on fireworks. The law only gives him authority over unincorporated areas of the state. But he would offer this advice to local governments: Don’t light the fireworks.

“Based on the current conditions throughout the state, my advice is not to do anything that could potentially start a fire,” Barger said. “We know this disappoints a lot of people, but the aftermath is too devastating.”

But those that are going ahead say not doing fireworks would have an impact, too.

“The Fourth is bigger up here than Christmastime,” said Christensen. “It’s a huge tradition, and a huge tourist season. It’s basically the reason why we exist.”

She said the decision to continue with the display, which will run after the towns’ 99th consecutive rodeo, was based on tradition as well as on business.

“We need to try to do what we can to keep our businesses viable,” she said. “People from Phoenix, elsewhere, they love the forests, they have second homes here.”

Holt, who said St. John’s residents were happy to help their neighbors during the wildfires, would not comment on the decision of towns that will have fireworks displays.

“It’s been quite the controversy here,” Holt said. But maybe the loss of fireworks in one town is another town’s gain, she said.

“We understand it’s a matter of pride for the citizens (to have fireworks), but we’re just as happy to send folks down there” to Eagar, Holt said. “They need the economic development.”

Fireworks in wildfire country

Southeast Arizona towns are divided on whether to hold fireworks shows after the biggest wildfires in state history hit the region. 

Apache County:

Eagar: Yes, with Springerville

Springerville; Yes, with Eagar

St. John’s: Canceled

Cochise County:

Bisbee: Canceled

Benson: Canceled

Douglas: Canceled

Huachuca City: Canceled

Tombstone: Canceled

Sierra Vista: Canceled

Willcox: Canceled

Navajo County:

Holbrook: Yes

Pinetop-Lakeside: Canceled

Show Low: Final decision Monday

Snowflake: Canceled

Taylor: Yes

Winslow: Yes

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