By: TARA ALATORRE –
CAVE CREEK – A longtime popular Cave Creek Independence Day fireworks show that has taken place at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral for 25 years has been cancelled due to concerns about the extreme fire risks, and a revised ordinance regarding fireworks within the town limits.
On June 13 Cave Creek Fire Official, Mike Baxley, sent the owner of Harold’s, Danny Piacquadio, a letter informing him that his fireworks permit request was denied due to safety issues brought on by the extreme drought, and potential wind conditions that are forecasted on July 3, which is the date of the firework show.
“After much consideration, research and input from local emergency responders; we have determined that with extreme drought conditions currently present in the Town of Cave Creek it is not safe to allow display fireworks,” stated Cave Creek’s Fire Official Mike Baxley in a letter to Piacquadio on June 13.
Piacquadio petitioned for reconsideration and presented the town council with a revised plan on June 18, which included reduced firework shell sizes that limited the fallout area of embers; but the council stayed their position citing that a town ordinance prohibited them from approving the permit during high fire danger.
“The risk of catastrophic loss of property and structure due to wildland fire that could be caused by falling embers or errant mortars is too high for the community to bear,” stated Baxley’s denial letter.
Last year the Cave Creek Town Council changed regulations about the use of firework display shows that requires the town fire official to deny firework permits during periods of high fire danger, and gives the town the authority to revoke permits as well.
The revised town code states that “a permit shall not be issued, and may be revoked, during periods of high fire danger.” Because the ordinance states “shall not,” the town council and Baxley insist that their hands are tied by the language of the ordinance, and therefore denied the permit.
Many residents and Piacquadio are upset about the decision, especially because a firework show was put on during the Cave Creek Balloon Festival on May 26, which was three days after the Maricopa County went into stage II fire restrictions.
“It’s irresponsible to pass a code that’s ambiguous at best and selective,” Piacquadio said. “It’s subjective to one man’s opinion (Baxley) and now they are using selective enforcement to not allow our show.”
However, the permit for the balloon festival was approved long before any fire restrictions were implemented by the county and it was too late to revoke the permit, so it was allowed to continue, according to Mayor Ernie Bunch.
But Piacquadio argues that the Tonto National Forest had fire restrictions into place by April 18, and the town ordinance has no metrics or stated definition for what high fire danger is, which leads to selective enforcement.
“They just denied a 25-year tradition to the town,” Piacquadio said “How could you say it is not safe when we have not had one incident in 25 years?”
He believes the motivation for denying the firework permit could be a political one because it is a town election year; and since the balloon festival’s firework show caused complaints from some residents, he believes local politicians that are up for re-election want to quell voters by cancelling the July 3 show.
Despite the reasons for the permit denial, Piacquadio claims he has lost about $8,000 on costs for marketing, advertising and fireworks he spent on the event that he cannot recoup.
It is not just Harold’s that is economically affected by the fireworks show being cancelled, the event brings in many people to the town and is a welcomed boost in business during the otherwise slow summer months. Neighboring businesses will likely feel the squeeze from lost business caused by the fireworks cancellation, according to Piacquadio.
“This tradition has generated more than $2 million dollars of additional revenue to local businesses during our slow summer months,” Piacquado stated in an open letter. “We have entertained over 150,000 spectators and we have raised more than $100,000 in donations for many local charities.”
The town fire official emailed the Rural Metro Fire Department on May 30, which was after the balloon festival, informing the Fire Department Chief John Kraetz that he was elevating the town’s fire danger to “extreme.”
Although, the Rural Metro Fire Department has traditionally played a crucial role in the Harold’s July 3 fireworks show by wetting down vegetation and positioning fire trucks in the town center to extinguish any embers that could ignite a fire, Chief Kraetz expressed concerns about this year’s fireworks.
“I have expressed how uncomfortable I am for years with the fireworks at Harold’s,” Chief Kraetz said in an email on May 31 to Baxley. “The shoot site abuts a large swath of desert to the south that isn’t easily accessible, which presents logistical issues as far as gaining access to extinguish any potential fires.”
Town safety is a priority and always important to Piacquado, but he argues that weather conditions are just as dry as they were on May 26, and if town believed that the balloon festival was able to conduct a safe firework show, then objectively Harold’s could conduct a safe firework show on July 3.
“We will be asking these same leaders to change the code in weeks to come, so we have a more definitive code,” Piacquadio stated in his letter.
Mayor Bunch said he would consider looking at the fireworks code in the future to re-evaluate the language of the ordinance, but ultimately he stands by the town’s decision to cancel Harold’s July 3 fireworks show.
“It was a highly unpopular, responsible move on the town’s part,” Mayor Bunch said.
Harold’s will still be holding events on July 3-4 for Independence Day, visit haroldscorral.com for more information.