Out with a bang

Fireworks ban in Big Sky under consideration

As Fourth of July approaches during this historically hot and dry June, everyone is concerned about fireworks, especially in Big Sky and West Yellowstone. “Candidly, most of the public comment we received over the past week was from Big Sky and West Yellowstone and it only makes sense,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Zach Brown in an interview Monday, “They are already designated as high fire hazard areas.” Gallatin County has drafted an ordinance banning open burns and setting off fireworks in Big Sky and West Yellowstone, and they voted Wednesday afternoon. As of press, no decision had been reached.

The Madison County Board of Commissioners issued this statement before noon on Wednesday after an emergency meeting was called, “Due to forecasted high wind, record high temperatures, low relative humidity and current severe drought conditions within Madison County, a burn ban and fireworks ban is in effect for all private lands in Madison County due to HIGH wildland fire danger.”

The open burn ban has already gone into effect in Big Sky, but a fireworks ban has not. The Gallatin County ordinance would make “a violation of these bun bans technically a criminal charge.”

Brown says that 99% of the calls the commission received were from Big Sky, all requesting a fireworks ban. Fortunately, many organizations in town are already listening. "The Big Sky Ski Education Foundation has decided to forgo the operation of our fireworks stand this year," writes Jeremy Ueland, Program Director of BSSEF. The foundation acknowledges that it is losing one of its most significant fundraising opportunities by canceling firework sales; but hopes their actions will help prevent possible fire spreads this Fourth of July.

Similarly, the Arts Council of Big Sky has canceled the fireworks display at the Independence Day event and banned all personal fireworks to be lit at the event, both during the event and after the concert concludes.

Even without a county wide ban--which would mean fireworks were banned everywhere, most large landowners and clubs have banned both fires and fireworks including Big Sky Resort, Spanish Peaks Club, Moonlight and the Yellowstone Club. Fireworks are always banned on federal lands. The BSOA last week indicated that it discouraged but did not ban fires, and whose covenants ban fireworks except for the Fourth of July, has not responded to requests to comment on a local firework ban as of press time. The BSOA is the largest homeowners association in Big Sky. Other owners associations, such as West Fork and the Town Center say they do not have specific firework regulations.

If Madison County follows Gallatin, and Gallatin County bans fireworks, fireworks will not be allowed in Big Sky and people won’t need to figure out where they fall in the patchwork of regulated lands. Fireworks are also restricted to different hours and days in Bozeman and Belgrade.

Big Sky Fire Chief Greg Megaard says his best advice for the town during these next few weeks is to "have people be really cognizant of where they're at, what they're doing, and the impact [of their actions] on the community as a whole." The most important thing that people can do to help limit fires is to be aware, he says, whether that’s informing neighbors of the danger of recreational fires or being extremely overcautious when campfires in designated areas. If someone doesn’t respond well, Megaard says, to keep trying. If they aren’t responsive and danger seems imminent, call 911.

People who are identified as the source of a wildland fire face large fines and legal action if a ban is in place. In 2018, a teenager was fined $36 million for the fire he started with fireworks in 2018. Nearly 20,00 fires are caused by fireworks annually according to the National Fire Protection Association.

This is a developing story. See www.lonepeaklookout.com for updates.

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Lone Peak Lookout

Cori Koenig, editor: editor@lonepeaklookout.com
Susanne Hill, billing: shill@lonepeaklookout.com
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