Fireworks Display at Festival of the Fourth

Fireworks light up the night sky after the Festival of the Fourth at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman.

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The Gallatin County Commission is considering emergency ordinance this week prohibiting open burning, recreational fires and fireworks in the Big Sky and West Yellowstone high fire hazard areas ahead of Independence Day.

The ordinance cites the current weather conditions, extreme high heat, high winds, local fire activity, low humidity and general high fire danger as reasons for its necessity. Gallatin County is set to experience temperatures ranging from the 80s to 90s, with slim chances for thunderstorms throughout the coming weeks, according to the National Weather Service.

The Gallatin County Commission plans to vote on the emergency ordinance affecting Big Sky and West Yellowstone at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Officials are also planning a press conference after that meeting with agencies across the county.

The county commission met Monday to discuss the nature of the emergency ordinance and how it could be enforced. Violating the rules would count as misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for up to six months or both.

Sheriff Dan Springer said that enforcing a ban on fireworks in particular can be tricky with the average response time of 15 to 18 minutes leaving room for suspects to vanish.

He added that while rules like the emergency ordinance could ban fireworks, it won’t stop the sale of them.

“It’s really hard to sell fireworks and ban fireworks,” Springer said at the meeting. “That seems really difficult from an enforcement standpoint.”

The Bear Trap fire, which burned more than 15,000 acres west of Bozeman, was brought up at the meeting on Monday. The 2012 wildfire, which cost $1.23 million to suppress and caused property damage worth nearly $4 million, was started by fireworks.

Kevin Larsen, operations and training manager for Gallatin County Emergency Management, said that 15 of the 16 fire districts in Gallatin County have entered into a burn ban of some kind, mostly banning open burning.

People in general, ordinance or not, know how dry the conditions are and will abstain from launching fireworks, he said. But the ordinance can help those who may not be aware of the gravity of the situation, he said.

“I think it will establish a good foundation, and really kind of force some people to increase their situational awareness,” Larsen said.

The city of Bozeman is urging residents to not use fireworks on the Fourth of July or during the summer, according to a press release. Record heat waves and severe drought conditions are drivers for the advisory, Bozeman Fire Chief Josh Waldo said in the release.

“We’re urging people to celebrate and recreate responsibly this year,” Waldo said in the release. “While we encourage everyone to have a great Fourth of July, we are asking that we all do so safely and take necessary precautions to reduce the risk of fire.”

Madison County instituted a stage 1 burn ban last week, which prohibits open burning. Park County posted on its Facebook page Monday morning that it has implemented stage 1 fire restrictions, which prohibits all fires, including campfires.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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