Madison County issues county-wide ban and Gallatin bans in Big Sky, West Yellowstone
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Big Sky night sky will only be starlit on July 4, after the Gallatin County Commission approved an emergency order on June 30 banning fireworks in Big Sky and West Yellowstone. The order follows “piles” of public comments, according to commissioners, calling for the ban, mainly from the Big Sky and Hebgen Basin areas.
The Madison County Commission also approved a county-wide fireworks ban earlier on June 30. Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart said nearly every public commentator, from Big Sky to Virginia City, was in favor of the ban.
The Gallatin ban applies to what the ordinance describes as the Big Sky High Fire Risk Zone, or lands in Gallatin County south of mile post 61.5 on US Highway 191; and the West Yellowstone High Fire Risk Zone, or the Gallatin County lands south of mile post 32 on US 191. The Gallatin County ban is in effect for 30 days and the ban is in effect for 30 days. of Madison is in effect indefinitely.
Although fireworks are one of the many traditions used to commemorate U.S. Independence Day, the West is currently plagued by drought, high winds, and scorching temperatures. Gallatin and Madison counties went from a moderate to severe drought index from June 21 to 28, joining about 38% of Montana in the designation.
“From a fire season standpoint, it’s incredibly dry,” said Cory Lewellen, ranger of the Bozeman Ranger District of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. “Since the beginning of June, we have really seen conditions similar to those of August. “
Lewellen said the Ranger District has been monitoring the energy release component – how well a fire can burn and how quickly it can grow – for 10 years in Bozeman. Currently, the ERC has been above the maximum measured over the past decade. “If we have a fire starting, that fire can really start. It’s dangerous right now.
This, coupled with the recent record heat waves and high winds sweeping the region, has resulted in high fire danger and, in some cases, early season fires.
On June 17, a wildfire engulfed a tree and the surrounding acre near the South Fork Loop to Big Sky. The next day another fire broke out south of the Riverhouse BBQ & Events along US Highway 191. Both fires were brought out quickly, but testified to the current dire conditions and reminded the local community and visitors of the current risk.
Big Sky resident Michelle Horning was one of many who contacted the Gallatin County Commission to request a fireworks ban. She said the current fire danger along with the two recent local fires prompted her to reach out.
“I think anyone who visits Big Sky or lives here knows that we have a lot of heavily forested neighborhoods, and I just feel like being proactive about not having fireworks this year is the right thing to do. to protect everyone’s homes, people and pets, ”Horning told Explore Big Sky on June 30. Horning has lived in Big Sky since 1994 and said she can’t remember a year when conditions were so bad so soon.
In addition to public comment, members of the Big Sky community have shown their support for a fireworks-free July 4th by supporting the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation’s decision to cancel its annual fireworks sale. .
Every summer, the BSSEF sets up a fireworks display a few weeks before the Fourth. The sale is one of their biggest fundraisers and a crucial part of their budget. Last year the booth grossed $ 45,000. On June 24, BSSEF announced that it would not be selling fireworks this year.
“We want to keep our community safe on July 4th and preserve the surrounding environment,” Jeremy Ueland, program director, wrote in a press release. “We believe that fireworks are a high risk activity this season and hope that anyone who decides to use them will do so in a safe, legal and responsible manner. We will do our part by not offering fireworks for sale this summer. “
To make up for lost funds, BSSEF has launched an online fundraiser. To date, the alternative call for donations has raised $ 24,000, including a contribution of $ 10,000 from the Lone Mountain Land Company and $ 5,000 from Big Sky Build. The Yellowstone Club Community Foundation announced on June 30 that it would match the next $ 10,000 raised to help BSSEF reach its goal of $ 45,000.
“The decision BSSEF made was very difficult for them to make, but I think the community as a whole appreciates their commitment to putting the citizens of the region first,” said Ania Bulis, vice president of sales at Big Sky Real Estate.
While Big Sky’s only fireworks booth will be vacant, the areas of Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners are still packed with booths. During the first reading by the Gallatin County Commission of the emergency ordinance banning fireworks, Quinton Field with Big Box Fireworks in Belgrade spoke out against the ban.
“I understand that the products I sell can be problematic for all of these agencies. In my 20 years of practice, I have seen years drier than the one I am in. [in Belgrade]said Field, a volunteer firefighter who says he educates customers on the use and safety of fireworks as a fireworks salesperson.
None of the county bans prohibit the sale of fireworks, only the use.
The Big Sky Arts Council, which hosts a large public fireworks display every July 4 in a free musical performance, announced on June 27 that it was canceling the show this year due to the risk of fire.
“I feel like the Arts Council, like a lot of people, thinks community safety is the # 1 thing when we host events,” said Brian Hurlbut, Executive Director of the Arts Council, at EBS on June 30.
Hurlbut said recent local fires, fire danger ratings and no anticipated precipitation led the Arts Council to make its decision. He added that the sense of community, evident through social media and the support given to BSSEF, prompted them to cancel the show.
“We want to reflect what the community is reacting to and it seems to me… and to our board and staff that the overwhelming majority of people don’t want fireworks this year,” said Hurlbut.
Although the skies remain dark, the music for the Arts Council in the Mountains will return on July 3-4 after a pandemic hiatus in 2020, and other holiday festivities will decorate the weekend in red, white and blue.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we couldn’t have fireworks,” said Hurlbut. “It’s a big part of the July 4th event. It’s such a cool place to see the fireworks, and I know a lot of people are going to miss them, but we still have a big event that night. It’s gonna be a great party, and obviously we’re just excited to get back to live music and we’ll just have to deal with it. “
Mira Brody and Joseph T. O’Connor contributed reporting for this story.