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July 05th, 2020

bee jays fireworksFireworks are shot off for a public display after the Bee Jays victory on the 4th of July last year. The City of Liberal announced Monday the ban on fireworks in the city limits would be reinstated for this year’s holiday due to the dry and windy conditions in the area. L&T file photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

After allowing fireworks to be fired off for the past few years, a ban on fireworks in the city limits has been reinstated for this year’s 4th of July holiday. 

“With only six days remaining until the 4th of July holiday, Liberal Fire Chief Kelly Kirk and the City of Liberal have made the decision to invoke the emergency ban relating to the discharge of fireworks within the city limits,” a release from the City of Liberal noted. “The City of Liberal and Seward County have experienced extremely dry and windy conditions throughout the entire month of June, and the current weather and forecast of continued hot, dry and windy conditions through July 4 have led to this decision.”

City Ordinance No. 4520, according to the release, governs the sale and discharge of fireworks in the City of Liberal and contains an provision for an emergency ban when critical weather conditions make the firing of fireworks hazardous to the safety of the citizens of Liberal and their property. The provision states “Notwithstanding any of the provisions contained in this ordinance, there shall be no firing or discharge of any fireworks within the city at any time the Fire Chief or his or her designee, determines that weather conditions or local circumstances make such firing and discharge of fireworks hazardous.”

Concerns about whether or not fireworks would be allowed for this year’s 4th of July holiday have been expressed to city officials for the past several days, according to Liberal Fire Chief Kelly Kirk. 

“I had started receiving calls about what would be going on and the people at City Hall had also started getting phone calls from citizens concerned about how dry things are in the area and not wanting anything to happen to their property, so they wanted to know if we'd still be allowing fireworks within the city limits this year,” Kirk said. “Last week, we started watching really closely what the weather forecasts were saying about this weekend and at first the conditions were predicted to be somewhat favorable through the weekend with low-90s and mid-90s and no wind, but then the forecasts changed to multiple days of 100-degree weather and 15-20 mph winds, and there was no rain in the forecasts. So we started looking at what the national regulations were predicting and we started looking at the drought monitor, which showed our area is in what's referred to as Drought 2 conditions, which is severe drought, and at that point even federal guidelines suggest discontinuing the use of fireworks. All of those things combined made us sit down Monday with City Manager Cal Burke and decide to go ahead and say it's too dry, the conditions are too critical and hazardous to the city's citizens, and we need to disallow fireworks this year.”

Kirk said monitoring the weather so far has been a summer-long task for the fire department. 

“We're really aware of it every day, especially in the summer since everything does get so hot and dry around here – we keep a constant watch on all of that and we hope everything cooperates,” Kirk said. “At the beginning of June, we had a somewhat nice rain but soon after that, there was almost a solid week of 60 mph winds and heat, which dried up any moisture that was in the vegetation, and we haven't had any other significant rain since. Then as far as the 4th of July holiday, we don't start really watching for that until it enters the 10-day forecast and see what is predicted to happen.”

With all those factors, Kirk said the decision to reinstate the fireworks ban for this year was relatively easy. 

“I've spoken at past meetings of the county commission and the city commission about being opposed to allowing fireworks, so that really isn't really a secret, and I don't feel like fireworks really need to be in the hands of citizens because there are just too many hazards that go along with it and I feel like bigger community displays are much better since there's that higher level of control and safety,” Kirk said. “The Catch-22 for me though is fireworks are technically still banned in Seward County – the city overturned its ban, but the county never actually did. It's been a difficult issue for us as firefighters – by allowing them to be sold here, the chance is increased exponentially that some disaster will happen and again, if there are multiple incidents that happen, that will stretch us way too thin and then we won't be able to help anyone, and we never want to be put in that position. Nothing too major has happened the past few years they've been legal, the main concern has just been the noise of the fireworks, but unfortunately, there will be a point where someone will lose their property and/or their life, and that's not something we want.”

While fireworks at home are banned for this year, Kirk said the fireworks display after this year’s Bee Jays game is still happening and will be open to everyone in the community. 

“We'd also discussed whether or not to even allow that for this year with everything being what it is, but we did want to have some sort of celebration with the community for the 4th of July,” Kirk said. “But we ultimately decided to go through with the public display because that's a very controlled environment and there's backup to our backup with that show, so the environment with something like that is much more controlled and safe, whereas with the displays people do at their homes, many people don't take enough proper precautions and there's too much of a risk of a disaster or disasters happening, and we don't want the departments to be stretched thin because if that happens, then we can't help anyone. So for this year, save the time and money you'd put toward a personal display at home and come out and celebrate with the fireworks show after the Bee Jays game and join the rest of the community.”

For those who violate the ordinance, there will be a steep fine to pay. 

“As a reminder, violation of any provision of the fireworks ordinance is unlawful and may be punishable by a fine of no less than $100 nor more than $1,000 in Municipal Court,”  the City of Liberal release continued. “Although highly unlikely, this decision may be reversed closer to the July 4 holiday in the event unexpected persistent wet conditions occur,”

“We'd make that announcement very quickly. One thunderstorm won't set everything right, but if there is a cool, cloudy day sometime this week where we get a solid half-day of rain or so, then we'll talk about whether or not to re-allow fireworks for this year,” Kirk added. “But with what the forecasts are saying for this weekend, I honestly don't foresee that happening, but we'll keep an eye on everything we can. I'd encourage everyone to be mindful of the ordinance and obey it because this year, with everything being so dry, it's just not worth it to set off fireworks at home this year, and we don't want anyone to be hurt, so set those plans aside for this year and wait to see if next year will have better conditions. If you're truly fireworks-starved though, the Bee Jays display is always amazing, so come out that night and celebrate that show with the rest of the community.”

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