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Whitefish Cancels Public Fireworks Display

Fourth of July spectacle at city beach canceled amid persistent fire danger

By Tristan Scott
Fireworks during the annual Fourth of July celebration at Whitefish City Beach. - Beacon file photo

A weather forecast predicting high winds and critical fire danger prompted the City of Whitefish to cancel its vaunted fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

The decision comes one day after the Whitefish City Council unanimously enacted an emergency ordinance banning the use of private fireworks displays in the city, and just hours after Flathead County banned the use of fireworks on all public and private land located within the county’s boundaries.

The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce display, which takes place annually from a barge on Whitefish Lake and is a popular, relished spectacle, was the lone public fireworks display in Flathead County. The Polson community fireworks display at the fairgrounds will proceed, according to the Polson Chamber of Commerce.

At the July 1 city council meeting in Whitefish, Mayor John Muhlfeld and the council made it clear that Fire Chief Joe Page had the authority to cancel the event at any time if weather and fire danger conditions warranted it.

On Thursday afternoon, with winds of between 25 miles per hour forecast for Friday evening, Page notified the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce and Whitefish city officials of his decision.

“It was definitely a tough decision. I know a lot of people enjoy the fireworks on the Fourth,” Page said. “But the fireworks are a one-hour display, and although they are a lot of fun, I don’t want to jeopardize our entire summer by risking a fire event that ruins our outdoor activities. When I start weighing the risks to firefighter safety and the safety of the public, it is clearly not worth the risk. We are drier now than anything I have seen and the fuels are very receptive.”

The National Weather Service warned residents of high winds and low humidity, which creates critical fire conditions. The agency issued a Fire Weather Watch for July 1 through July 4 for western Montana. Winds are expected to gust upwards of 40 miles per hour and humidity are predicted to hit single digits.

In a press release sent out by the City of Whitefish Thursday afternoon, Page stated: “I attended the County Commissioners’ meeting this morning and told them, when asked, that I was going to base my decision on the fire weather forecast. Well the latest forecast is for a front to move through the evening of the 4th with winds up to 25 mph, which are above the 15-20 mph threshold I set. Our fuels are already setting records for this time of year and are ready to burn. Based on our current fire conditions and the predicted weather I’m going to ban this year’s fireworks display at Whitefish City Beach.”

Questions can be directed to Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns at 406-863-2406 or Chief Page at 406-863-2491.

On Thursday, the commission also unanimously voted to declare a state of emergency in Flathead County.

Lake, Missoula, Ravalli, and Lincoln counties banned the use of fireworks on Tuesday, and firework use is also banned in Columbia Falls and Kalispell city limits.

Fireworks are not allowed on state or federal land or in Glacier National Park.

Emergency services coordinators for Lake County along with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the cities of Polson, Ronan and St. Ignatius agreed at a meeting to ban the use of fireworks immediately.

The area will be in Stage 1 fire restrictions starting at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 3, which mean campfires are prohibited except in designated areas, like fire rings at developed campgrounds.

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