Most years in Great Bend, Fourth of July firecrackers start popping early in the morning, and can be heard nonstop from 10 a.m. to midnight, when they are “legal” under city ordinance. But while many people enjoy the fireworks, city firefighters have always approached the holiday with concern for safety.
In 2011, the Great Bend Fire Department responded to 26 fire calls on the Fourth of July, Chief Mike Napolitano said. A $20,000 car with fireworks in the trunk was consumed by one fire. Even on July 5, illegal fireworks started a brush fire that was fanned into trees south of Stone Lake.
Last week’s decision to postpone the Fourth of July fireworks in Great Bend may have been unprecedented, but it isn’t the first time it’s been considered.
A headline on page one of the June 30, 1966, edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune reads, “Mayor Orders Halt to Shooting of Fireworks.” Above the headline is a kicker headline that reads, “Zoo Animals ‘Spooked.’”
Reading the story, one learns that fireworks could still be shot on the Fourth of July that year. The executive order by Mayor H.C. Davis was issued on the afternoon of June 29, 1966. It curtailed the early shooting of fireworks that city ordinance had allowed until that point.
“The order was issued following numerous complaints received at the city office about the early start on the shooting of fireworks this year. The sale was permitted under a state law adopted by the city at the same time it adopted its revised ordinances.”
Two antelope at the Brit Spaugh park died that summer, because of fireworks, the story continued. “The antelope were ‘spooked’ by the exploding firecrackers and ran into the sides of their cages, causing death by broken necks.”
Earlier that week, the Tribune ran a story explaining that fireworks, which previously could only be shot on the Fourth of July, were being allowed early, from June 27 through July 4, “conforming to state statutes.” Fire Chief Clarence Myers warned people to use caution to avoid the chance of fire and injury.
In 1992, there was so much rain in the area that farmers were wishing for some hot, dry weather so they could get into their fields before the Fourth of July. A story in the June 28 edition of the Great Bend Tribune noted, “Fire Chief Dick Meisinger is hoping that things will calm down this year, and that there will not be property damage, as Great Bend has experienced in the past.” With July 4 falling on a Saturday that year, the Great Bend Jaycees scheduled two days of events at Veterans Memorial Park, starting with a dance featuring “King Midas & the Mufflers” on Friday, and ending with fireworks at the lake at 10 p.m. Saturday.
In later years Great Bend moved its public fireworks display to the Expo grounds west of town.