Despite the setback, organizers say they see plenty to build on for next year
RIDGEFIELD — The inaugural Fourth at the Fairgrounds Celebration was not without its problems, including a grass fire sparked by the fireworks show that canceled the event about ten minutes early, and long lines for the food venders that showed up.
“Trying to anticipate how many people were going to be coming was, of course, the largest factor in trying to put in an event like this together,” says Mickey Webb, CEO of the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
Webb estimates the free event brought around 6,500 people out to the Fairgrounds.
“Had a great crowd, great turnout,” he says. “Once again, not knowing what to expect, we did have some longer food lines than expected, but I think all in all everybody was very patient.”
Eight local groups performed in a Battle of the Bands, starting at 5:30 p.m. Webb says over a thousand people voted electronically, with Beat Frequency featuring Shawn Lewis and Natasha Neuschwander taking home the top prize of $1,500.
People commenting online said they appreciated the Battle of the Bands, but felt like the event needed more to do aside from an inflatable zone for the youngsters.
“It was very busy,” admits Webb. “So, we just need to plan to sort of expand a little bit, so that we can accommodate the larger numbers, which I’m sure we’ll get next year.”
The fireworks show, put on by Western Display Fireworks of Canby, Oregon (the same company that puts on the Fort Vancouver event), began precisely at 10 p.m. as scheduled, but ended about 10 minutes early after falling sparks ignited several spot fires in the grass near the Amphitheater.
“We had (Clark County) Fire District Six here on site starting about 30-45 minutes before the display started,” says Webb. “And they were here for this kind of issue. The fire that broke out was in the fallout zone that we had anticipated as a potential location that if anything was going to fall down, that would be where it would be. So they were able to respond very quickly and the fire marshal did a great job of keeping everyone safe and making sure that everything went well.”
According to bystanders who watched the fires burn as they waited in long lines to get out of the Fairgrounds, crews had the flames under control within 20 minutes. There were no injuries and no buildings were damaged.
Fires sparked by a professional fireworks display are nothing new. Several times since the Fort Vancouver fireworks show was moved to Pearson Airfield, and off of a barge in the Columbia River, grass fires have been sparked during the display.
This year’s event was sponsored by ilani Casino, as well as several other corporate sponsors. Webb says it’s a bit too early yet to know if all of them will return to help fund next year’s event, but he anticipates the Fairgrounds will break even on the cost of the event from food and parking fees.
The Fairgrounds Association has formed a nonprofit group to explore funding options for next years event, and will look into whether to bring back Battle of the Bands, and how to get more food vendors on site to help alleviate some of the long lines.
“You never know what the price of fireworks will be next year,” he says. “So let’s sort of play that by ear and see what the budget pulls together. I believe it is an event that can be sustainable.”
An out-of-towner’s perspective
Webb arrived in the Northwest just a couple of years ago and took the job at the Clark County Fairgrounds in time for last August’s fair. He says coming from back in Tennessee it’s been eye-opening to see how people in Clark County celebrate the Fourth of July holiday.
Standing at the shop, waiting for the big fireworks display to start, Webb says he could see neighborhood fireworks displays going off all around the Fairgrounds for well over an hour.
“And a lot of people who were waiting for our fireworks, I guess we’re getting a little bit of a pre-show by all of the other fireworks that were being fired in the in the in the distance,” he says. “I’m from Tennessee, so I’ve seen fireworks displays in Knoxville. And I lived in Baltimore for 13 years, I’ve seen the DC and the Baltimore displays as well. But this is one of the first ones that I really enjoyed being able just to see how encompassing It was around the entire area.”
Fireworks are no longer legal within the city limits of Vancouver, and Clark County, along with several of the other towns within the county, have cut back hours fireworks can be sold and used. That seems to have condensed the holiday into a tighter window, making for a more intense Fourth of July holiday.
Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, who did not return a request for comment on this story, has said she hopes having two major fireworks shows in the area, along with the one at the Port of Camas-Washougal, leads to fewer people setting off their own pyrotechnic displays in their own neighborhoods.
So what do you think? Do you feel like the number of fireworks going off in your neighborhood has been reduced from recent years? Do you feel like the new rules are having an impact on how people are using fireworks? Sound off in the comments below.