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Opinion Columns

Zornio: Fourth of July fireworks shows should be banned in Colorado

Facing increased wildfire risks and other impacts, it’s time for patriotic celebrations to go in a new direction

For dozens of Colorado cities, honoring America’s 246th birthday means celebrating with a bang. But given the state’s increased fire risk, declining air and water quality and mental health concerns, should taxpayers really keep footing the bill for risky fireworks?

Trish Zornio (Photo by Holly Hursley Photography)

At least eight Colorado cities have determined the risk is too high and have already canceled their firework displays. This includes Lakewood, Parker, Telluride, Boulder, Castle Pines, Castle Rock, Gypsum and Englewood. Four of the canceled shows have been replaced with drone events.

Yet many other cities are still taking part in the usual Fourth of July celebrations, a matter quite shocking given Colorado’s recent fires and copious warnings of more to come. 

Perhaps most striking in the debate over firework displays is the City of Louisville. A mere six months ago the city was devastated by the unprecedented Marshall fire, yet with residents still grieving the city now plans to fire off at least $10,000 worth of fireworks — and the launch site is not far from homes that were just burned to the ground.

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As a Marshall fire evacuee and soon-to-be resident of Louisville, I was quite surprised to learn the city planned to move forward with the traditional celebration. So I reached out to the coordinator to learn more about how they made this decision in light of recent events. The city’s media team promptly provided the following response:

“Every year we have careful consideration of this event. We work with the Louisville Fire Protection District and Boulder County to consider the risks and in some years, we have canceled if conditions do not support the show. We will continue to monitor the conditions this year like we do every year.

“One main reason that cities hold shows that are monitored and controlled by the fire department is to reduce the number of illegal private shows that do not have proper oversight and to reduce overall risk.

“We recognize that this is a difficult time for our residents. Some find comfort in tradition, watching fireworks as they always have, at the golf course, with their community. Others may want to join us for the afternoon’s activities and spend the evening quietly, away from the fireworks display. We respect the diverse needs of our community members at this time.”

Of course, it seems fairly obvious that it’s not actually possible for the residents to spend the evening quietly away as fireworks produce extremely loud noises, lights and smoke — all of which can be triggers for potentially thousands of people in the area who are still experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder post-fire. It’s a plight that many others with PTSD share, most notably military veterans and those who have survived mass shootings.

Asked if the current Boulder County fire restrictions would impact the firework display, city representatives replied, “Boulder County’s fire ban does not directly pertain to the eastern portion of Boulder County. We will coordinate with the Louisville Fire Protection District and Boulder County to ensure that conditions support the show.”

All right, but if there are active fire restrictions a handful of miles away, is deploying high-risk pyrotechnics really the best idea? And doesn’t the fire department deserve a bit of a break?

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Fireworks have a long history of starting blazes, a trend that is only likely to accelerate as climate change increases aridification and extreme temperatures. According to a 2018 National Fire Protection Association report, it was estimated that 19,500 fires were started directly by fireworks as reported by U.S. fire departments. In total, they caused five deaths, 46 injuries and damages of roughly $105 million.

Fireworks also carry heavy environmental tolls. The combustion of each firework requires an ingredient combination of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate exposed to oxygen and heat. The explosive is then modified for color using compounds of barium, copper, sodium and strontium. This produces noxious particles upon bursting that smoke up our skies and fall into our water. Notably, such pollution is found to disproportionately impact already marginalized communities, perhaps due to launch locations.

While fireworks have long been a tradition on the Fourth of July, the time has come for this particular tradition to end. No celebration is worth the risk of lost homes or health. Especially in light of multiple devastating fires in our state, it’s best to find new alternatives.


Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.


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