Our view: Decision to cancel fireworks was wise
It’s never easy for public officials to make decisions they know will disappoint thousands of people on a holiday, especially in a resort town. However, we believe Steamboat Springs Fire Protection District Chief Mel Stewart and other local officials showed courage and good judgment July 1 when they called off the local display at Howelsen Hill, which attracts thousands of celebrants from all over the region and the nation.
The upper Yampa Valley has remained surprisingly green early this summer in spite of scarce rainfall in June. However, the public’s perception of fire conditions shifted dramatically on July 1 when concert-goers, headed for the free Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers show at Howelsen Hill, were confronted with the sight of an ominous pillar of smoke that appeared to be rising from behind the Sleeping Giant.
The smoke in the air proved to be from the Mill Creek Fire, which has been torching dry timber in the remote Pilot Knob region of West Routt. As of July 6, that fire, burning 23 miles northeast of Hayden, had consumed 452 acres and still was only 30 percent contained.
It would be easy to surmise that in calculating whether or not to cancel the fireworks show, Stewart and other emergency managers considered how bad it might look if they went ahead with the traditional display, in spite of the Mill Creek Fire, and then suffered the misfortune of a fire on Emerald Mountain caused by the fireworks.
In reality, emergency officials don’t rely on a gut feeling when they make these decisions. Instead, they employ scientific testing of the moisture content in the vegetation and soils in the area to help them gauge the fire danger. It isn’t guesswork; it’s science. And subsequent wildfires have confirmed the science.
Since July 1, a wildfire just outside Breckenridge has caused the evacuation of 500 homes in the Peak 7 neighborhood. And a popular boat launch at Rancho Del Rio on the Colorado River was closed by the threat of the Gutzler Fire 9 miles east of State Bridge.
In Steamboat, fireworks organizers were also gracious under the circumstances. That includes members of the Borden family, whose enthusiasm and funding have built the reputation of the local fireworks show as one of the best, if not the best, in Colorado and even the nation. Many volunteers worked hard to put the actual fireworks in place in advance of the cancellation.
The number of wildfires that have already filled the skies of Western Colorado with smoke so early in the 2017 season serves as a reminder of the importance of the ongoing fuel mitigation efforts of the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest in the timber stands of Northwest Colorado and of the importance of the federal funding those efforts depend upon.
We’d also be remiss if we did not applaud the heroic efforts of firefighters who are fighting the Mill Creek Fire and other wildfires across Colorado. Many of those public servants spent their July Fourth holiday battling blazes around the state, and their dedication is valued and does not go unnoticed by us.
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