Fire officials always have a list of things to be careful about around the Fourth of July.
But the simplest tip may be this one from a Park County fire official: “Don’t hold things that go ‘BOOM.’”
Sam Wilde, fire marshal for Park County Fire District No. 2 in Cody, is joining fire officials across the state in urging residents to use common sense this 4th of July weekend, for the safety of the individual and the benefit of the community at large.
“Fireworks should be kept a good distance from any structures or combustible grasses,” Wilde said. “Check the weather conditions. Make sure we’re not under red flag warnings, that we’re not under fire restrictions. If it’s windy, don’t do it.”
Wilde has been the fire marshal for Park County District 2 for nearly 20 years. In that time, he has experienced a number of fire calls in which fireworks caused property damage.
“A few years back, we changed (Cody fireworks display) vendors,” Wilde said. “And it’s not uncommon for us to have fires across the river, down on the hillside (where the display is shot from, away from private property.) The new vendor wanted to move the firework show closer into town, and I wouldn’t allow it.”
Wilde said the vendor appealed to the City Council, which ultimately took Wilde’s advice and kept the fireworks display set up where it had been for the previous 27 years – which turned out to be a good thing.
“That year, (a fire) took the whole hillside,” Wilde said.
Wilde told Cowboy State Daily he learned quickly that the Fourth of July weekend would be busy for a volunteer firefighter.
“In my rookie year, 1996, we had 27 fire calls in a 3 hour period,” he said. “Almost all caused by fireworks.”
Wilde pointed out people assume that when they call the fire department, somebody will be on the way. But on a busy holiday in which incendiary devices are being set off all over the county, that isn’t always the case.
“I remember one night on the Fourth of July, we had every truck staffed,” Wilde said. “And everybody was going to different calls. And they got to the point where the tones would go off on the pagers to an address, and there was nobody left to respond.”
Wilde urged residents setting off fireworks to have a garden hose, fire extinguisher and a shovel handy, so if a small fire does start, there’s a chance it could be extinguished while still small.
“Before it burns up the neighbor’s fence or their yard or the field or something,” Wilde said.
Don’t Be Drunk
Adult supervision – sober – is also a must, he added.
“Sometimes, especially on that kind of holiday, people have a tendency to be enjoying libations,” Wilde said, “and so sometimes common sense goes out the window.”
And don’t assume that just because fireworks are pointed up, they will go that way, advised Cheyenne resident Jonathan Downing.
He recalled at a celebration 15 years ago when he was living east of Cheyenne, when a Roman candle misfired and ended up setting a field in the back of his house on fire.
One attendee rushed out to extinguish the flames with a blanket, trying to hurdle a fence in the process.
“He misjudged the height and brought the entire fence down,” Downing said. “But once he recovered, he was pretty effective in snuffing out the flames.”
Downing said the other attendees at his fireworks show were of no help whatsoever due to the celebratory beverages they had consumed.
“They were just out on my deck laughing at the fire and our friend who had ruined my fence and was trying to put the flames out,” he said. “I think they were rooting for the fire.”