Parque de Vida, where the display was held, began to fill up with spectators hours before sunset. Families held picnics and volleyball games near the skate park and in Centennial Park across the road, and merchants sold food and glow sticks from tents around the park’s perimeter.
Organizer Keenan Ertel delivered about 45 minutes of explosions on the ground and in the air, and unlike last year’s display, it wasn’t interrupted by fire.
Ertel spent about two weeks preparing the array of fireworks he launched on Wednesday, his daughter Kinsey Ertel said. The fireworks were placed in the middle of Parque de Vida, which was surrounded by tape to keep spectators out, and wired to an electronic detonator on a nearby truck.
In 2017, one of Ertel’s many aerial shells exploded on the ground, causing a small fire that delayed the show.
With a fire ban in effect across the county and numerous wildfires burning in Southwest Colorado, local firefighters didn’t take any chances with this year’s display. Half the Cortez Recreation Center’s parking lot was taken up with trucks from the Cortez, Towaoc and Lewis-Arriola fire departments. Ute Mountain Ute Fire Chief John Trocheck said Cortez and Towaoc firefighters provided backup at each other’s fireworks displays because of “the drier conditions” this year.
“Fireworks, you can’t predict,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing to begin with.”
But most spectators before the show didn’t seem worried about fire danger.
Natisha Johnson spent the time before the show selling “piccadilly,” or pickle-flavored, snow cones out of a tent. A resident of Red Mesa, Arizona, she said she’s been coming to the Cortez fireworks for several years, although this was her first year as a vendor.
“So far, out of all the fireworks shows I’ve seen, this is the best one,” she said.
Montezuma County commissioner candidate Jim Candelaria used the show as an opportunity to do some campaigning, handing out glow sticks to the spectators along with some other members of his campaign.
The group said they met several people from La Plata County, where the Durango fireworks were canceled because of the fire danger.
Cortez resident Jennifer Hope – who came decked out in red, white and blue necklaces and a headband with star-shaped antennae – said she’s been to the town fireworks more times than she can count.
“I like the community event, the families that come – it’s just such fun to watch,” she said.
This year, she said, the crowd seemed smaller than it has in the past.
Kinsey Ertel also said before the show that she hadn’t seen the growth in attendance that she expected after many nearby towns canceled their fireworks.
Those who did come, though, expressed their appreciation loudly enough to be heard over the booming fireworks. Each explosion and ground display was met with cheers and applause from the crowd around Parque de Vida.
Ertel delivered rapid-fire missiles, fountains of sparks, blinding flashes and the occasional miniature mushroom cloud of a gas mine, all of them reflected in the Parque de Vida pond and in the solar panels on the Recreation Center roof.
“Thank you, city of Cortez!” one woman shouted during the fireworks show.
The display, which was funded by private donations, went smoothly. Unauthorized fireworks remain illegal throughout Montezuma County.