This file photo from July 4, 2016, shows the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display over Juneau. (Micheal Penn | Juneau Empire File)

This file photo from July 4, 2016, shows the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display over Juneau. (Micheal Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Juneau’s fireworks show gets green light despite statewide ban

The show will go on.

The Gastineau Channel Fourth of July fireworks show will go ahead as planned, according to the City and Borough of Juneau.

It was unclear whether the show would be allowed this year following an order from the State Fire Marshal’s office suspending the use and sale of all fireworks due to increased fire danger.

According the Capital City Fire/Rescue, the show which occurs at 11:59 p.m. on July 3, will be allowed but with a “tremendous amount of scrutiny” and “is done by licensed pyrotechnicians.”

While the city’s show will be allowed, the personal use of fireworks remains banned until further notice. Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge said in a press release that, “We ask that people in Juneau adhere to the ban on personal use fireworks.”

Bonfires, or “open burns” will still be allowed but the fire department is asking that citizens use “extreme caution” when burning or grilling.

High temperatures and dry conditions have greatly increased the risk of fire in the run-up to the July holiday.

[How dry is our rainforest? Southeast’s rare drought could threaten plants, animals, your power bill]

“Although we live in a rainforest, the threat of wildland fire is a very real danger. We are in the middle of a drought and that changes the dynamics of our rainforest,” Etheridge said.

Wildfires in the northern part of the state have put strains on state firefighting resources. The Swan Lake fire in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge has grown to 88 square miles, according to the Associated Press, and an Air Quality Health Advisory was issued for Anchorage over the weekend.

In a July 1 report, the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reported a total of 122 active wildfires throughout the state, with over 500,000 acres burned.

Despite the increased risk, event organizers are confident the show will go off without incident. Gary Stambaugh, co-chair of the Juneau Festival Association has been working with the fireworks show for 25 years.

The show is done “every single year the same way,” Stambaugh said. The fire department, “know exactly where we’re going to be,” and fireworks “shots” have been mapped out so that everything will be over the water.

In this file photo from July 3, 2017, Gary Stambaugh, center, leads a safety briefing with volunteers before the annual city-funded fireworks show in Juneau’s downtown harbor. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this file photo from July 3, 2017, Gary Stambaugh, center, leads a safety briefing with volunteers before the annual city-funded fireworks show in Juneau’s downtown harbor. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

“The event is well-choreographed,” Etheridge told the Empire, citing the extensive permitting process with multiple agencies that had to take place before the event was given the go-ahead.

The organizers also have a “fallout zone,” the area of about 300 yards surrounding the fireworks barge where they anticipate debris to fall, cleared by the Coast Guard and State Fire Marshal’s office. The barge and the tech boat from which the fireworks are controlled are equipped with their own fire-hoses in case of emergency.

In the past, event organizers have had to plan for rain delays, but Stambaugh said this is the first time he or any of his colleagues can recall a potential hold due to fire danger.

“This is a new thing,” he said.


• This is a Juneau Empire report by Peter Segall.


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