May 1, 2019 — Fireworks on the Fourth of July is usually the highly anticipated culmination of a day of celebrating America’s Independence from England 243 years ago. Family picnics and neighborhood barbecues are staples of the holiday and from the beginning of the republic these celebrations featured extensive after dark pyrotechnics.
In 1870, the U.S. Congress declared July 4 a federal holiday, although unofficial celebrations of America’s independence had included fireworks from the beginning.
In 1776, John Adams, one of the nation’s founders, suggested a pyrotechnics celebration was warranted by the significance of the event.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forever more,” wrote Adams, who served as president of the United States from 1789 to 1797.
On July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence were held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square to the ringing of bells, band music and fireworks. One year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and more fireworks.
These are just some examples of the central role that pyrotechnics, explosions and fireworks play in the country’s collective Fourth of July celebrations.
Unfortunately, the chance that Florence will be able to stage its popular fireworks display is in doubt due to the lack of an approved base from which to launch the explosives.
The annual fireworks show is sponsored and paid for by the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce. The situation surrounding this year’s display is different than the previous two years, in that the barge that was used to launch the fireworks has been relocated and other staging arrangements have yet to be finalized.
According to Chamber Executive Director Bettina Hannigan, one of the main issues is a requirement that there be a clear, 500-foot area surrounding the staging platform. This requirement is proving to be difficult to provide.
“I’d say right now it’s about a 50-50 chance that we will be able to figure out the logistics and the legality of this process, and then be able to find a way to make this happen by the Fourth of July, which is our goal,” she said. “Currently there is no barge available to launch fireworks from and the 500-foot clearance is prohibitive to launch from property around the port and Old Town area.”
Dave Huntington, manager of the Port of Siuslaw, is also unsure if there will be fireworks this year.
Huntington points to the sale of the privately-owned barge that was used the last two years to stage the display as the main reason for the concern.
“The barge that was used to stage the fireworks last year was sold and because of the fire regulations, we need 500 feet of clearance around the staging area, and we just don’t have that kind of space at this time of year. … We are completely booked up for that weekend,” Huntington said,
Hannigan is working with other chamber members to try and come up with a plan that can be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue and put in place for the holiday.
This has been more of a challenge than Hannigan anticipated, and chamber members have had to think outside of the box to come up with an alternate plan for staging the display.
“The chamber is working in conjunction with the port and Dan Lofy of Lofy Construction to try to ‘assemble’ temporarily docks into a barge that fireworks could be launched from,” Hannigan said. “Because of the cost to insure ‘vessels,’ the barge would have to be detachable and pass the Coast Guard inspection to be viable.”
This process is problematic in that it requires the construction of a platform large enough to meet state standards for launching fireworks, but which must also be easily disassembled to allow for river traffic.
Huntington has offered to donate some old docks to the effort to come up with an acceptable way to offer a fireworks show this year, but feels the docks may not be sturdy enough for the task at hand.
With just over two months to figure out how to make the 2019 fireworks a reality, Hannigan remains optimistic that the city’s annual fireworks display will occur.
“The chamber has executed the contract with the Fireworks contractor with the anticipation of successfully ‘barging’ through this,” she said. “I hope we can figure out a way to make this happen and provide another memorable Fourth of July celebration for our residents and all of the visitors that we know will come to enjoy the holiday in Florence.”
For information on the Florence Area Chamber of Commerce and its activities, visit florencechamber.com.