Tuesday, June 28, 2011 , Updated 11:07 a.m., July 1, 2011
UPDATED: Given dangerously dry weather, might North Texas fireworks shows get the ax?
Probably not, unless high winds become a problem.
UPDATE: The City of DeSoto has canceled their fireworks show, which was to have been put on in conjunction with the City of Lancaster. The fire marshal noted that the site of the planned shoot was near a densely wooded area, which he feared might prove to be at risk for errant embers.
With Fourth of July fireworks shows being canceled all over the place in drought-stricken, dried-out, dangerously flammable South and Central Texas — including the cities of San Antonio and Austin — I wanted to find out whether North Texas fireworks displays might be in danger of getting the fireman's ax, or whether last week's much-needed heavy rains could have saved our boomtown bacon.
I called up Craig Holcomb, president of Friends of Fair Park, to find out whether there were any concerns over this year's Cotton Bowl display coming off as planned. As you'll recall, last year Dallas' signature fireworks show was canceled for reasons totally unrelated to the weather — before being reinstated at the eleventh hour through the generous efforts of some corporate sponsors.
Holcomb expressed a high level of confidence that this year's event would go as planned, regardless of how hot or dry it gets.
"We shoot ours off in a large parking lot," he told me, where there's nothing much around to catch fire.
The Dallas Fire Department will have personnel on hand to supervise the shoot, said Holcomb, and there'll be observers on the roofs of surrounding buildings keeping an eye out for any isolated flare-ups. His only expressed concern was in regard to the livestock enclosures, which — if they were to burn — might be difficult to replace before State Fair time. But that sort of risk was considered a very remote one.
As for sponsorship shortfalls, Holcomb stated that this year they started early — on July 5, 2010, as he put it — getting everything lined up for this year's show. (Lesson learned, in other words.)
Pyrotecnico produced this fireworks over the Trinity show on Sept. 25, 2009.
The Pyrotecnico folks will be shooting this year's Fair Park show, which will be preceded by a Dallas Wind Symphony concert on the steps of the Hall of State. Following the open-air concert, event organizers built a 45-minute break into the action so folks can amble from the Esplanade (which is overshadowed by trees) over to the Cotton Bowl, where viewing of the rockets' red glare should be fantastic.
I asked Holcomb if there were any weather conditions under which even this sort of carefully-orchestrated civic display might be canceled, and he replied that firefighters are the real experts.
With this in mind, I got in touch with Assistant Fire Marshall Stephen Lea of the Arlington Fire Department, the official in charge of supervising his municipality's numerous fireworks events — including those put on periodically at the Rangers Ballpark, and the big Light Up Arlington civic display set for Sunday, July 3.
I posed the "under what weather conditions might a fireworks show be canceled" question to Lea, and his answer came as something of a surprise:
Dryness and heat (which, it should be noted, are pretty common conditions for Texas in summer) are not of major concern for civic displays, Lea told me. High winds, on the other hand, could quickly put the kibosh on a show, and did in fact lead to the cancelation of fireworks at a recent Rangers game.
The reason that fire officials are more concerned with wind than anything else stems from the way fireworks shows are sited, and the strictly controlled conditions under which they proceed.
"If the wind's too high," said Lea, "the likelihood is the embers could travel (out of the safety zone) and the show would be canceled."
Other safeguards in place include the presence of fire department observers to monitor the event; the fact that the crowd is kept back a safe distance, based on the size of shells being launched; and, as noted, the wind's direction and speed are carefully monitored.
Lea was quick to point out that uncontrolled displays — those put on by private citizens who buy their fireworks at roadside stands — represent the real danger.
"Those are the places where dry conditions come in," Lea said.
Which is to say, the two nights of rain we received last week didn't make a drop-in-the-bucket's difference in local municipalities' shoot/no shoot decision-making process. It makes one wonder whether some of the cancellations in Central Texas might stem from something like a knee-jerk reaction. (You can't tell me they don't have parking lots down there big enough to contain the embers.)