Fireworks event gets tentative nod

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LAFD > Chief explains extensive planning amid drought

By Tris DeRoma

When the Los Alamos Kiwanis Club recently announced in the Los Alamos Monitor that it was going to have its annual July 4 fireworks display at Overlook Park this year, many residents expressed concern.


“C’mon folks, we’re experiencing a record-breaking drought, we’re surrounded by wildfires and unless the monsoons arrive quickly, “Mission improbable a fireworks show in a tinderbox with a guarantee of ‘ultimate safety’ could become ‘mission in flames,” said letter writer Carol S. Furchner. Furchner was quoting from a line in a Sunday editorial that was published in the Los Alamos Monitor regarding the decision to proceed with the fireworks show.

When reached Monday for comment, Kiwanis member and Fourth of July Event Chair Steve Boerigter avidly defended the Kiwanis announcement.

“The editorial made it sound like there was a transparency issue and there is assuredly not.” Every Kiwani is a long standing member of the community and we’re part of Los Alamos and there’s no effort in any way shape or form to try and hide anything, Boerigter said, adding that he also included his contact information in the release if anyone at the newspaper had any questions.

As for giving the public assurance that they’re making safety a priority, Boerigter said the setting for the display, Overlook Park, is a very “controlled facility” and “we have a very large and capable fire department.”

Boerigter also said a large number of Kiwanis will also be acting as spotters who will have radio contact with the fire department should the need arise.

Los Alamos Fire Chief Troy Hughes said he and his department did not make the decision lightly, and it’s still tentative, based on wind conditions. If the winds rise above 15 mph then the show will be cancelled, he said.
“This was a tough decision,” he said. “It’s never an easy decision for a fire chief to say put fire up in the air and then hope nothing starts up.”

Hughes said they based their decisions on scientific data and computer projections from the Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as weather experts.

“We had some scientists from LANL do some hazard modeling, similar to what we do on a daily basis with the shot activity (explosives testing),” Hughes said. “We put those same resources to work planning this particular event.”
He said LANL went even further for the department, using a computer program that projects the fallout from fireworks, projecting that onto a satellite map of Overlook Park.

The simulation gave them a maximum 560-ft exclusion zone (the outer ring in the picture) and a minimum 200 foot zone (inner ring).

Hughes said he plans on having fire patrols at every point watching what happens.

“We will have just about doubled our forces on the scene that night, all of them will have firefighting capabilities,” Hughes said. “LANL has also agreed to loan us their off-road ATV wild land fire vehicle that has foam and everything else on it.”

In the days leading up to the show, the fire department will be clearing debris and cutting brush within the 560 foot area as well, and on the night of the show, the area will be dampened with water.

Hughes also said the governor herself has reminded community agencies to encourage people to attend community-sponsored fireworks events, to keep people from setting off fireworks in their backyards or in the canyons.

“Hopefully, we can get everybody there and not in LA Canyon and Rendija Canyon, using stuff they bought 10 miles down the road in Pojoaque,” Hughes said. “Hopefully we can have everyone (at Overlook Park) within a controlled environment.”

The LAFD also plans to have full stations on the night of the event as well, so if someone does decide to set off fireworks in a place they shouldn’t be, they will be able to cover that as well.

As for the launch site and those managing it, Hughes said that was checked thoroughly as well.

“They have state-of-the-art equipment that can be shut down instantly if the need arises,” Hughes said. “We’ve also seen their fireworks racks and how their program works. We’re pretty comfortable that they are at the top end of the professional scale. They aren’t just a bunch of guys with torches lighting fuses.”

The fire chief also said there’s an interest in using the fireworks, which have been stored since the show has been cancelled the last two years. “Anytime you have to deal with aging explosives there’s more risk involved,” Hughes said.