Risk-Avoidance: July 4 Fireworks Canceled in Flagler Beach and Palm Coast’s Town Center
FlaglerLive | June 20, 2011
There will be no 4th of July fireworks in Flagler Beach this year. Nor will there be fireworks in Palm Coast’s Town Center on July 3. The Flagler County Commission canceled both fireworks shows Monday evening in deference to firefighters and the risks inherent in shooting off hundreds of rockets—and flaming embers—in a county battling 16 active fires, and on tinder-like grounds.
The county commission has the authority to cancel the Palm Coast fireworks this year because it’s paying the bill for them, through the Tourist Development Council, which approved $15,000 for each fireworks show.
No fireworks will be allowed anywhere, including hand-held items such as sparklers, which, have not always been forbidden during burn bans.
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“If we remain in the condition that we’re in today or get any worse, fireworks of any kind are a bad idea,” Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito told the commission. There’s rain in the forecast next weekend, but how much of it is in question, and the region is still in drought conditions. “I would say that the one in the Town Center we can probably definitely say no to that one, because of the location, and I mean that if you drive to town center it’s very heavily wooded, and it’s very easy to ignite a fire in there. If we can get some rain over the weekend I think we can go ahead and plan on the Flagler Beach one, and possibly the Hammock, depending on how much rain we get.”
The Hammock fireworks show usually lights up the sky north of the Hammock Beach Club in an area cleared of woods. The fireworks are shot over the ocean.
“If it doesn’t rain at all, I would be very hesitant to allow any fireworks at all,” Petito said.
With that, commissioners appeared convinced not to take risks regardless. The concern is over falling embers, which can fall “near very expensive houses, and they’re very hard to stop.”
The fireworks shows are the work of Fireworks by Santore. The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce contracts with the Palm Coast-based company every year. That contract was signed this year and the company was going to be paid—ironically, in advance, for the first time in several years: previously, the company was paid the evening of the fireworks, after the show had once had to be canceled (as it was in the 1998 fires, when Flagler County was entirely evacuated the day before July 4, though by then the firestorms had crested, and fires died down in the following days). The payment process was halted. (A previous version of this story had incorrectly noted that Santore had already been paid.) Last year’s fireworks both in Flagler Beach and Palm Coast–where they were launched for the first time in the city’s history–tangoed with rain, but went off.
The company will work with the county to produce a show at a subsequent date, Doug Baxter, the chamber’s president, said, but it’ll be up to the Tourist Development Council to decide when the shows would be produced. One option: Labor Day.
“I was here in ’98 and I’m not willing to take that risk again. It’s pretty bad especially when the embers that even fly off of the pier and the wind changes. It can drift pretty far, so it would be my suggestion that we don’t have the fireworks,” Commissioner Milissa Holland said. “It honors the men and women who are out there day in and day out, fighting the fires, as well as not coming off as hypocritical to our residents, since we do have a burn ban, and we’ve really discussed how significantly serious this is. So I’m inclined to forego the fireworks this year.”
Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon endorsed Holland’s approach. “It just doesn’t send the right message. Very, very dangerous out there right now, and it’s not worth the chance, in my opinion, and I know the firefighters would agree with that. They’re tired, they’ve been out there long and hard. Doing something that could possibly cause us to fight more fires just for the 4th of July doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Barbara Revels, who lives and works in Flagler Beach, suggested the county wait for a week before making a decision, in light of the long-range forecast that calls for some rain. But the notion didn’t get support: only the fireworks are being cancelled, not the parade planned for Flagler Beach or the tailgate party planned for Town Center, though that tailgate party is organized with the fireworks as the payoff.
“I’m very, very reluctant to cancel the fireworks,” Alan Peterson said. “Cautions are in place any time fireworks are permitted, there are fire crews and fire vehicles there, immediately available, but I agree with the others because it’s just not worth the risk. I think whatever we decide, it may work out to be the wrong one, we may get a lot of rain. But I think that the public deserves to know well in advance as to what the situation is.”