Ever-present threat of wildfire leads Breckenridge to rethink Fourth of July fireworks
January 13, 2019
With wildfire concerns plaguing its summer firework shows, the town of Breckenridge is looking for another less worrisome way to celebrate Independence Day this year.
Planning is underway for Fourth of July celebrations across the country and state, but fireworks won't be a part of Breckenridge's plan. It's not that town officials are feeling unpatriotic. Rather, they're tired of scheduling a show that keeps getting canceled and, quite frankly, might be sending the wrong message.
"With the fragile state of our forest, council can no longer support hoping for a rainy year," said Mayor Eric Mamula during a recent discussion about the town's Fourth of July celebration. "I don't think it's prudent for us to even send that message that that kind of activity in this forest is OK."
Almost 500 homes between Frisco and Breckenridge had to be evacuated on July 5, 2017, due to the Peak 2 Fire. Last year, the Buffalo Mountain Fire torched over 80 acres on June 12, forcing the evacuation of a neighborhood outside of Silverthorne.
As a result, fireworks across the state fell like dominoes due to drought conditions and over fears of fire, including planned shows in Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain Resort and Keystone Resort.
Fireworks displays in the nearby mountain communities of Avon, Gypsum, Fairplay, Leadville and Vail were wiped out last summer as well. Many people applauded the towns' decisions not to shoot off fireworks.
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A quick straw poll of Breckenridge Town Council last week revealed that everyone was in line with the mayor, afraid of summertime wildfires and quite willing to ditch the fireworks.
"I'm fine with not doing actual fireworks because that stress every year — 'Are we or aren't we?' And then messaging it out — I think we can remove ourselves from that," said Councilwoman Elisabeth Lawrence.
The conversation then turned to what the town might do instead. Lawrence suggested some kind of alternative and wondered out loud if money saved on fireworks could go to produce something like a more animated Fourth of July parade. At the same time, other council members wanted to explore what the town could do during the evening hours in lieu of fireworks.
"I think we should put aside some money and encourage the (Breckenridge Tourism Office) to see if they can explore ideas for something that would be cool that does not bring fire dangers," Councilman Dick Carleton said.
Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe was "wide open" about what that alternative could be, as she too expressed support for putting it on the BTO to come up with something other than rocket-powered pyrotechnics.
Also, it's important to set the tone for the town, Wolfe added, saying that council's decisions can influence individuals and set the tone for private business to act more responsibly.
In previous discussions, council has even talked about ways to get local businesses to stop selling firewood during fire bans.
And by deciding not to shoot off fireworks this summer, at least one council member thought that Breckenridge would avoid putting some unnecessary stress on local wildlife and people's pets, too.
Plus, with a robust lineup of Independence Day events — trail runs, the Firecracker 50 Mountain Bike Race and the town's Main Street parade — there's really no shortage of fun happenings in Breckenridge to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
"I think there's some advantage to offering something different," Councilwoman Erin Gigliello added, suggesting that Breckenridge has plenty of room to work on coming up with a unique offering for the Fourth of July with Frisco regularly doing fireworks over Lake Dillon — and doing them well.
Some ideas that could take the place of fireworks might be a drone show, like what Aspen had planned last year, while other towns and cities have found success with lasers, lighting displays or free concerts.
As for the leftover fireworks that didn't get set off July Fourth in Breckenridge, they'll be seen over the town starting at 6 p.m. Jan. 26, paired with a free concert by El Paso Lasso, during the International Snow Sculpture Championships from Jan. 21-30.