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Fire officials caution personal firework use, encourage attending downtown display

Friday, June 29, 2012 | 9:39 p.m. CDT; updated 6:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 2, 2012

COLUMBIA — It's hotter than a firecracker.

Columbia officials, however, believe the scorching temperatures and dry conditions will not affect the "Fire in the Sky" display for the Fourth of July. 

"As of right now, there are no concerns," Brad Fraizer, battalion chief and fire marshal of the Columbia Fire Department, said.

Fraizer and Karen Chandler, superintendent of recreation and community programs, said that wind is the primary issue potentially affecting the display.

"Winds above 20 mph would be cause for evaluation, but there is none in the forecast," Fraizer said.

In the past, "Fire in the Sky" was held at Memorial Stadium, but this year the show will take place on top of the parking garage at Sixth and Cherry streets. Chandler said this area is primarily constructed of concrete and brick buildings and is less likely to catch fire than a dry, grassy field near Faurot Field.

Fraizer said the same safety precautions as previous years will be in place, with emergency personnel on the ground in the areas surrounding the parking garage. This year, however, there will be three locations for roof-top spotters. It is the spotters' responsibilities to watch for any embers that could become spotfires, he said.

Although weather's not expected to be a factor downtown, the dry conditions could affect firework users outside of Columbia.

Fireworks are permitted for personal use outside city limits, but Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District said he strongly discourages using them this year.

"We can't ban fireworks in the county," Blomenkamp said. "Any ban on fireworks in the county would have to come from the local county government or state government."

So far, the Fire District has not responded to any firework related fires, but the dry conditions are a big concern as people begin to celebrate the holiday.

The safety precautions Blomenkamp usually urges people to follow are for years with a normal amount of moisture. He said these precautions don't apply to this summer, considering the dry conditions.

"Our advice is not to shoot off fireworks," Blomenkamp said. "The difference this year is we haven't had consistent rain since May 6."

Meanwhile, firework vendors in the area are feeling the effects of the hot and dry weather.

Clay Ham of Aerial Fireworks said it is only his first year selling fireworks, but the average sales have been low – only $100 per night. He's heard the sales usually pick up about three days before July Fourth.

"I anticipate more customers during the weekend and expect it to pick up during the evening when it cools down some," Ham said.

Other vendors have told Ham that aerials, the more expensive, larger and elaborate fireworks, are traditionally best sellers. Ham said that this summer he's had customers specifically ask for smaller fireworks that are less likely to start fires in dry conditions. 

Risks for the community fireworks display of "Fire in the Sky" from atop the parking garage are much lower in comparison to personal use, Chandler said.

"The community would be a lot safer if people come to the display downtown instead of shooting them off in their own front yards," Chandler said.

Supervising editor is Dan Burley.


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