The city of Wrangell cancelled its independence day fireworks display, which was scheduled for the 3rd of July. Like many of the town’s woes, city officials say a lack of water is the main risk factor.
The city didn’t consider cancelling the fireworks until Monday night. City officials, the police department and the fire department decided Tuesday morning that the show would not go on.
City Manager Lisa Von Bargen says the decision wasn’t taken lightly.
“There have been hundreds of people getting off the plane here in Wrangell for the 4th of July. Fireworks are the pinnacle of a 4th of July event and not having those are a big deal, ” Von Bargen said. “The impacts were taken into consideration when the decision was made and in the end it just isn’t the risk.”
The city cancelled the event, saying the fireworks could cause a fire in the nearby trees and brush.
The Alaska State Fire Marshal banned the sale and use of fireworks in much of Alaska last week. In Southeast, those bans were issued in the northern panhandle: Haines, Skagway, and Juneau, though the capitol city managed to keep the show on.
But the state didn’t impose restrictions on Wrangell and the rest of Southern southeast. The city took it’s own prerogative to do that. Von Bargen says a risk of fire always exists with pyrotechnics, but right now the city can’t take that chance.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to put ourselves in a position where we might have to be fighting a fire with the same water we would be needing to be able to have fresh drinking water and clean water for community usage and fish processing,” Von Bargen said.
The city is currently on a low level water watch, asking all residents to reduce consumption where they can. Wrangell has struggled for years to meet water needs, and now it’s in a drought. And the city has known that for months. Von Bargen says the risk wasn’t apparent until just recently.
“If we were still spilling water out of the reservoirs, I’m not sure I would have as much concern. But we’re not, and that was not the case last week, a week ago both reservoirs were still spilling,” she said.
Plus an ozone leak at the water treatment plant was detected Monday. That meant the plant went offline for a portion of the morning Tuesday.
About a month ago the Wrangell Chamber of Commerce and the Fire Department made a joint decision to move the waterfront show to the baseball field. The waterfront is too congested with persons and buildings to meet safety standards. The baseball field was the solution. It’s open, but is surrounded by trees and brush.
“We will endeavor to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again by trying to come up with alternatives, because we know this weather pattern might continue,” Von Bargen said.
Von Bargen says a barge could solve the problem, but is extremely costly to rent.
The chamber says the 3rd of July party will continue. The festivities planned at the track, including the live band, games and food vendors will move downtown.