As midnight approaches on the third of July every year, the sky is ablaze with fireworks shows up and down Gastineau Channel as people await the city’s show at midnight.
This year, one of those shows might not be happening.
Brett McCurley, a Douglas resident who runs the show on Sandy Beach every year, said Tuesday that it looks like he will not be doing the show this year.
That’s because, at the request of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Capital City Fire/Rescue is investigating McCurley’s show for any possible violations of state law. City and Borough of Juneau statutes allow for people to shoot off fireworks between certain times around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.
“There is no CBJ law prohibiting what I’m doing,” McCurley told the Empire via text message. “All I wanted to do was to get the fireworks out of the neighborhoods and take it to an open area.”
CCFR issued a statement on its Facebook page about the investigation, saying the department has not taken any enforcement action. The department is “reviewing a public complaint on the storage and potential display of an extremely large quantity of fireworks,” according to the statement.
“We are researching the applicable laws and ordinances to find the minimum requirements are and what options may be available for everyone involved,” the statement read. “State statutes do have long-standing minimum requirements for qualifications and insurance levels for the protection of the public during a public fireworks display.”
CCFR stated there will be no further statement or information until the investigation is over. Fire Marshal Dan Jager said in a phone interview Wednesday that the investigation began at the beginning of the week and will likely go for just a couple days longer.
“We hope to have some answers sooner than later,” Jager said. “We’ve got roughly a month until the Fourth of July that it’s not quite as tight a timeframe to deal with.”
Jager said just one person in Juneau — Sigrid Dahlbert — is a licensed pyrotechnician. Dahlberg runs the CBJ’s annual show.
The complaint originally went through the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Richard Boothby, the state fire marshal, told the Empire via email that there is no information to release on the investigation at the moment. He did not share information on the complaint, such as who it came from or what specifically it was about, and neither did Jager.
McCurley puts on a show at the beach on July Fourth and New Year’s Eve, and told the Empire recently that he’s done it out of his pocket. He said Wednesday that each show costs about $7,000. A few hours after this year’s New Year’s Eve show, cardboard boxes left over from the show reignited and caused a fire in a Douglas neighborhood. Nobody was harmed.
McCurley said he believes the complaint is about the size and weight of the fireworks he’s using.
According to the state’s Fire and Life Safety regulations (specifically Chapter 56, Section 5608.2), people who are firing off fireworks that are 1.3 grams or 1.4 grams must have a pyrotechnic operator’s permit. The same permit is needed for operators who use 250 gross pounds of fireworks in a show, according to the state’s regulations.
McCurley said the state’s regulations are not specific when it comes to a firework’s weight, saying most states measure by the weight of the powder in a firework instead of the total weight. He said he keeps his shows to under 250 pounds in powder.
To obtain a pyrotechnic operator’s permit, one must be able to document having participated in at least six public fireworks displays in the state and be able to pass a written test from the Alaska Division of Fire and Life Safety office (part of the Department of Public Safety).
McCurley said he’d be interested in applying for the state pyrotechnic license if necessary, but he said he still would have to do the six licensed shows.
Jeff Morton, a supervisor for the State Fire Marshal Office, said in a brief phone interview Wednesday that licenses are good for three years at a time. He said that to have a show with these large explosives, a person has to both inform the city and make sure the operator has a pyrotechnic permit.
“From time to time, we get some interesting, what I like to say as ‘respectful pickles’ that people get into,” Morton said. “But for the most part it’s a fairly seamless situation.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.