It was a strange Independence Day, to say the least, with fireworks -- the most important element of the holiday to many -- missing. When Fulton and Sharp County leaders banned the use of individual fireworks, I expected it to be widely ignored. After all, fireworks stands were open and, with so many feeling it's just not July Fourth without some explosions, I figured lots of people would not be able to resist lighting the sky, dry conditions or not.
Nick Coleman, who owns one of Salem's fireworks stands, admitted his sales were way down this year, but he took it in stride -- pointing out this was his 17th year selling fireworks and down years come with the territory. Coleman actually complimented people for observing the ban on shooting fireworks, noting most people were taking the dry and dangerous conditions seriously, and didn't want to be the one whose fireworks touched off a big fire.
|Judging from police scanner traffic, Fulton County residents were not shy about reporting fireworks usage, and officers were quick to investigate reports of ban violators.||Judge Charles Willett invited people to buy all the fireworks they wanted, and shoot them off when we finally get enough rain to make it safe to launch them. A co-worker predicted there would be a lot of home fireworks shows on New Year's Eve -- another popular fireworks night.|
With events cancelled in Salem, Lake Norfork, Thayer and West Plains, fireworks shows at Cherokee Village and Horseshoe Bend were the only ones to get a "go" on the Fourth. Some friends rented a pontoon boat from the Cherokee Village marina, and invited us to come along for the Thunder On Thunderbird festival at Cherokee Village.
I always enjoy the Salem Chamber of Commerce sponsored picnic and fireworks show at city park. But the Cherokee Village event was well run, had a few surprises and, of course, was an especially great setting to view fireworks, if you were lucky enough to be on a boat on Lake Thunderbird. There were really two festivals at once: the one on the water, and the one on the shore with bands playing and food available. Despite the heat, lots of people enjoyed the festivities on land. On the water, it was great to be able to jump in and cool off whenever you needed to, and boats began gathering early, creating a great atmosphere near the dam where the fireworks were launched.
After a water parade featuring boats decorated in their best Red, White and Blue, a helicopter fly-over took place. Being a first timer, I didn't expect much, but there were actually two choppers, and they performed some amazing high speed stunts -- flying low over the lake and suddenly shooting up into the sky to clear trees on land, and flying closely side by side and directly at each other.
Who were those guys? Thunder coordinator Jack Lowe would only say they are a father and son team, some friends of his, who prefer to remain a mystery.
Lowe said the Cherokee Village show went on, while others were cancelled, because of the work of the Cherokee Village and Nine Mile Ridge Fire Departments. About 7 p-m, they began spraying the dam with about 10 tanker-loads of water, to soak the area where the fireworks would be shot. Lowe revealed the show paused a couple of times, as some small grass fires were stomped out, but the fireworks continued without incident. Lowe, who works for a company called Air Magic and makes Thunder on Thunderbird his own personal crusade, said the show itself went off perfectly, and may have been the best yet, as the producers worked hard to create a heart pounding finale. Just as the "big finish" ended with a loud ovation from the crowd, I noticed Mother Nature offered her own finale -- a beautiful full moon had magically appeared, putting an exclamation point on the event.
Let's just hope that, next year, July begins mild and green, with healthy pastures, thriving gardens and fireworks safely exploding above. A lot of people say we haven't had heat and drought like this since 1952. So, maybe, it will be another 60 years or more before our Independence Day fun gets altered by too much sun and too little rain.