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Holladay Journal

Holladay cancels Fourth of July fireworks

Jun 22, 2020 11:25AM ● By Zak Sonntag

Holladay fire station stands ready to protect the community. (Zak Sonntag/City Journals)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Out of public health necessity and with great sadness, the City of Holladay canceled the annual Fourth of July firework fête, the latest casualty of the COVID crisis and a stark reminder that things aren’t back to normal despite the state’s soft reopening.

“We decided to bag it, because we couldn’t manage all those people in a way that was safe. Trying to keep with social distancing, we wrestled with it for a long time but I just don’t see how we could make it work given what we’re dealing with,” said Mayor Robert Dahle at a June City Council meeting.

The decision to send the celebration on sabbatical landed with even greater disappointment for coming at a time when patriotic morale is at a premium, having suffered deep blows after the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minnesota, whose death sparked social unrest that continues to simmer across much of the country.

“Right now this is especially hard. There is a lot of flag burning and turmoil,” said Councilwoman Sabrina Petersen, who expressed a yearning to reunify the national camaraderie. “I think it’s an opportunity to take pride in being American. So we’ve got to do our best [to recognize the holiday].”

City leaders promised to recognize Independence Day in the small ways it can, and plan to hang decorative bunting and banners in the Plaza in an attempt to keep community pride afloat during the down year. But the city’s subdued involvement will not prevent residents from asserting their own right to a proper celebration, which gives some pause. Bottle rockets have begun to soar across rooftops. Suddenly, the prospect of personal pyrotechnics introduces other concerns, as residents may see the city’s abstention as a vacuum to be filled. 

“It’s our busiest time of year. We staff extra units on the Fourth of July. We expect to be even busier this year because public firework shows will be closed,” said Capt. Dan Brown of Unified Fire Authority (UFA).

The looming ignitions put some communities on edge, and certain neighborhoods have pushed for greater protections. Residents of the Spring Creek community lobbied to enlarge the boundaries that prohibit firework use in their semi-wooded neighborhood, near the “wildland urban interface.” 

Councilwoman Drew Quinn took up the cause and teamed with Brown and state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss to extend the restricted area. Albeit state law puts some limitations on municipalities’ ability to expand boundaries, allowing expansions only “If the existing or historical hazardous environmental conditions exist,” which means if previous fire incidents have occurred in an area; or they may enlarge a protected area in order to “facilitate a readily identifiable line,” according to State Law HB 38, co-written by Holladay’s Senate Rep. Jani Iwamoto.

“Because the law allows us to extend the area for the purpose of making clearly defined boundaries, that’s what we did. Before the map was drawn through smaller streets and that makes it harder for residents to know exactly where it’s OK and where it’s not,” said Quinn, who represents areas of the Spring Creek community.

Having large, clear boundary lines makes the work of firefighters easier.

“If you look at some cities, their [firework prohibition map], and you see 20 little pockets, because that’s where they’ve had incidents. But with a map like that, you can’t enforce it or educate people about where its safe,” Brown said. “Ours was a squiggly line all over before and that makes it impossible to define. The new map improves that problem.”

Quinn said, “With fireworks, either you really like them or you really dislike them. Some people get rid of the firework display completely. But I know there are a lot of people who love it.”

The city will at least save much of the $28,000 slated for the Fourth of July festivities. Though some of that money is contractually obligated and non-refundable.

Quinn expressed sadness that the city could not promote the Independence Day holiday, but encouraged the community to celebrate with caution. 

“Fireworks are part of the culture, and I love it for that. Basically, we’re saying doing it at home but do it safely,” Quinn said. “All we can do is hope people have the sense to not venture into areas of big firework shows themselves.”