The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Dry conditions has police chief rethinking July 4th fireworks

Suspension of new ordinance could happen if weather stays so dry


Bill Comer is hoping for rain. And lots of it.

Comer, Valdez police chief, is responsible for suspending Fourth of July fireworks for private citizens in the event weather conditions are creating a fire danger.

With recent wildfires raging across Alaska and dryer and hotter than normal weather in Valdez, the situation does not look good according to city officials. The city clerk's office posted a warning in this week's edition of the newspaper and other areas of the city warning residents that the chief will be monitoring the situation closely.

This is not great news for Thompson Pass Fireworks, the name of the company that used to sell fireworks right outside the city limits for many years when setting off personal fireworks was illegal in Valdez.

Last September, the Valdez City Council amended Title 9 of the city's municipal code to allow limited use of fireworks prior to Independence Day and New Years Eve.

That set the stage for Thompson Pass Fireworks to begin selling fireworks in town. The trailer full of firecrackers, sparklers and other colorful explosives meant for personal use is located at the Totem Inn parking lot. The city's notice regarding the possible suspension of personal use fireworks are displayed prominently on the counter of the mobile facility.

The new section of Title 9 of municipal code that was passed by city council last September states: Use of fireworks is permitted from 10:00 p.m. on July 3rd to 11:59 pm on July 4th, and from 10:00 p.m. on December 31st to 11:59 pm on January 1st of each year subject to provisions of Section 8.20.050 of the Valdez Municipal Code. The chief of police may revoke permission whether expressly given or implied under this provision where the health and safety of a person may be endangered.

The Associated Press reports that warmer than normal temperatures – especially along the Southcentral coastline – are expected to continue through fall.

It also reports that the state has issued a ban on fireworks and burning across Southcentral Alaska – including the Mat-Su Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Anchorage Borough due to wildfire activity.

The state Department of Natural Resources has prohibited all open fires, which include cooking, warming and signaling fires in those areas. The Fairbanks North Star Borough has also issued a ban of fireworks. DNR says gas grills and backpacking or camp stoves using fuel or compressed-fuel canisters can still be used.

As the high profile Sockeye fire nears containment - the fire perimeter was 90 percent as of Tuesday morning according to the state - thousands of lightning strikes across Alaska Sunday sparked 38 new fires and 85 blazes spread over 195 square miles.

The Associated Press reported there were nearly 4,300 lightning strikes from Friday night to Saturday morning, which is the most the state has seen this year it said, quoting Alaska Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry. Many of the new fires were north and west of Fairbanks, in areas that tend to be hotter and drier over the summer, he said.

``They're pretty much all over the state,'' Mowry said. ``A lot of them were north of the Alaska Range, where haven't had a lot of activity yet...Given the dry conditions, it doesn't take much to start a fire.''

Last week, the Valdez Fire Department sent two firefighters to help control blazes around the state.

A large wildfire in the Willow area north of Anchorage, the heart of Alaska's dog mushing community, was 15 percent contained Saturday. The fire spanned 11 square miles and had destroyed 26 homes, but residents were returning to the area.

Valdez Star photo

Thompson Pass Fireworks is selling wares at the Totem Inn parking lot in anticipation of the Fourth of July. City emergency officials are wary.

The largest fire in Alaska is closer to home. According to the website operated by Alaska Wildland Fire Information – an inter-agency group made up of state and federal bodies governing wildfires, the Chisana River 2 Fire has grown to 33,805 acres and is now the largest wildland fire burning in Alaska at this time.

"This lightning-caused fire began June 9 in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve," it says. "The north end of the fire has burned into the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. The fire is burning along the west side of the Chisana River about 16 miles south of the Alaska Highway and 18 miles from the Canadian border."

There is an Incident Command Post set up at the Tok Area Forestry office compound, and fire operations are located at Northway.

Last week, a false alarm was raised when it appeared a fire might have been burning somewhere around Shoup Bay – which later proved to be unfounded.


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