With smoke from the West Fork complex of fires casting a pall over Sleeping Ute Mountain and the La Plata Mountains, officials Friday opted to proceed with the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
The fireworks show is slated for 9 p.m. Thursday at Parque de Vida. Despite serious drought conditions, Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said the routinely watered park grounds were an ideal location to hold the pyrotechnics exhibition. The fire department will have proper personnel and extra brush trucks strategically located to handle any potential fire threat, he said.
“I feel confident,” said Chief Vandevoorde.
Montezuma County Commissioner, undertaker and pyrotechnics guru Keenan Ertel told local officials Friday he would need a 500-foot fallout zone around the launch site to guarantee public safety. Ertel will ignite an estimated total of 500 pounds of pure explosives during the 45-minute aerial fireworks display.
“The only place we are going to get into trouble is if we have some high winds,” he said. “That’s my only concern.”
Ertel explained that winds blowing 25 m.p.h. at ground level could be as high as 40 mph aloft. Packing more explosive power than a hand grenade, a six-inch fireworks shell can travel as high as 600 feet, Ertel said.
Ertel entered the world of pyrotechnics about a decade ago, learning the craft of fireworks display under the tutelage of Bill Hutchinson. A member of the Rotary Club, Hutchinson operated the city’s fireworks show for more than 50 years.
“The greatest lesson I learned from Hutch was safety first,” Ertel said. “He always stressed to be as safe as you can. If you’re safe, then everybody goes home happy.”
Licensed with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, National Fire Protection Association and Colorado Department of Public Safety, Ertel has suffered a few minor burns and singed his hair occasionally as a certified pyrotechnics operator, but he has black powder in his veins.
“The smoke, the smell, the colors, the beauty; it’s all wonderful to me,” he proclaimed.
Ertel reminded citizens that pets can be sensitive to explosions, urging residents in the vicinity to take any necessary steps to ensure the safety of their pets.
Officials will close Mildred Road between Montezuma Avenue and Empire Street. Police Chief Roy Lane said the road closure was a cautionary procedure to safeguard expected heavy pedestrian traffic.
“We don’t want anyone to get run over,” he said.
As winds shifted last Friday, smoke from the West Fork complex north of Pagosa Springs settled into the area, alarming many residents as they awoke. The Cortez Police Department received 58 calls and the Cortez Fire Department answered 30 calls from residents concerned about the blanket of heavy smoke over the area.
Montezuma County remains under a fire ban meaning fireworks are prohibited. A City of Cortez ordinance completely bans fireworks within city limits.