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Big Sky groups cancel public fireworks display

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Fourth of July fireworks were lit from the top of Lone Peak in 2020, allowing the community to celebrate from a distance. PHOTO BY JOSEPH T. O'CONNOR

BSSEF board votes to discontinue firework sales after 2022


BIG SKY – There are many ways to celebrate Independence Day in Big Sky, but this year, like last, fireworks will not be one of them. At least not a professional display.

Historically, the Arts Council of Big Sky has provided the community with a large Fourth of July fireworks show, however, according to a decision released on June 28, the organization decided against it.

The Arts Council inherited the firework show from the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce when they began hosting Fourth of July Music in the Mountains concerts more than a decade ago, explained Brian Hurlbut, executive director for the Arts Council, but the nonprofit hasn’t hosted July Fourth fireworks since 2019. The COVID pandemic halted the show in 2020 and last year’s display was canceled due to the high wildfire risk, prompting internal discussions about whether they should continue hosting fireworks displays.

“The main concern was that even if we decide that we want to do fireworks, we recognize that there’s a chance we might not even be able to set them off because every year it seems like the fire danger is getting higher and higher,” Hurlbut told EBS. “Do we really want that responsibility on our shoulders?”

In addition, Hurlbut said that the liability insurance policy the Arts Council would need for the show has increased more than $10,000, contributing to the decision.

By this time last year, much of southwest Montana was inundated with wildfire smoke. On June 30, 2021, Gallatin County announced a strict firework ban in response to widespread drought conditions and high fire danger that lasted through the summer. Currently, however, no bans or restrictions are in place for purchasing or lighting off fireworks in Big Sky.

The announcement came with support from various community stakeholders including Big Sky Resort, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, the Town Center Owners Association, the Big Sky Community Organization, Lone Mountain Land Company and the Big Sky Fire Department. Outlaw Partners, publisher of this newspaper, also canceled its fireworks display that typically lights up the sky at the Big Sky PBR in late July.

Big Sky Resort made a similar decision to forgo a summer firework show this year.

“We have a shared responsibility to protect our forests and community from wildfire, so the decision not to host a fireworks show is a no-brainer,” said the resort’s general manager Troy Nedved in a statement to EBS. “We are so lucky to enjoy Big Sky Fourth of July traditions like biking, hiking and live music—and the opportunity to create new ones, such as a fireworks-free Fourth.”

Big Sky local JeNelle Johnson said she was happy to hear that Big Sky won’t have a professional fireworks show this year. Johnson was a strong proponent of last year’s firework ban after she witnessed a fire in Big Sky’s South Fork Loop, near her neighborhood. The fire wasn’t caused by fireworks, but she said seeing flames so close to the community illustrated how at risk the Big Sky environment is to wildland fires.

She knows it may not be a popular stance among some community members to be against fireworks but says a public display is not worth the risk. “I am totally in favor of a fireworks ban,” Johnson said. “But there are other ways we can celebrate.”

Hurlbut pointed out that some other community fireworks shows have switched from lighting off explosives to coordinated drone light shows in recent years, so alternatives do exist.

Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Tetrault with the Big Sky Fire Department said he believes the joint decision by the Arts Council and Big Sky Resort was the right move. Although this spring was uncharacteristically wet in southwest Montana, Tetrault explained that wildfire danger still exists and conditions can change quickly.

“It’s just not really worth the benefit of having the firework displays,” Tetrault said, referencing persistent wildfire danger in the area. “You’ll see that it’s become pretty common in mountain towns throughout the West and California. They’ve really gone away from [fireworks shows.]”

Despite the lack of professional fireworks in Big Sky, BSFD hasn’t indicated that there will be any bans on personal fireworks use in town, though they urge the public to be cautious.

The only place in Big Sky to purchase fireworks is at the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation’s booth near the Conoco gas station, one of the ski team’s primary annual fundraisers since the 1990s. BSSEF Program Director Jeremy Ueland said that summer fireworks sales bring in as much as $25,000 for the organization.

“We’d like people to set [fireworks] off safely at all times,” Ueland said. “People can save the fireworks for their New Year’s shows if they don’t want to set them off now.”

The booth closed down last summer following countywide bans on fireworks. At BSSEF’s board meeting on June 29, members decided that firework sales would continue this year but in the 5-2 vote, determined that this will be the final year for the fireworks fundraiser.

Tetrault said there may be an uptick in personal fireworks use this year without any professional shows, but explained that larger public displays are often well policed by neighbors and others in the community.

The fire department doesn’t anticipate implementing any July Fourth restrictions at this time according to Tetrault, however, they urge people to be conscious of where and how they use fireworks to mitigate both the risk of wildfires and personal injury.

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