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The Fourth and ‘The Land of Ahs’
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By Ernest Gurulé

Around 2,200 years ago a long forgotten Chinese guy forgot to take the green bamboo stalks off the hot coals they were sitting on and it changed the world. The stalks expanded and BANG!!! The first firecracker was invented. While fireworks have since come a light year in both sound and sophistication, back then the only useful purpose the Chinese could find for this accidental invention was scaring away a force of unknown mountain men.

As America celebrates its 243rd birthday, fireworks have evolved into a billion- dollar boom. As a nation, we shell out money for everything from snakes---fireworks’ super boring starter kit---to pyrotechnics that dazzle the imagination. Wherever you go this Fourth of July, from the Big Apple to the Big Easy and everywhere in between, there’s bound to be a public fireworks display nearby. Of course, if you decide to stay home, no doubt you’ll be hearing your share of explosions, many well after midnight.

The Denver metro area will have its share of fireworks displays and, no doubt, they’ll be amazing. But they won’t dazzle the crowds any more than what the folks in Florence, the San Luis Valley or many towns on either side of the mountains will witness. Fireworks, from sparklers to the big stuff, are nothing more than America writing its name across the night sky.

In Alamosa, the San Luis Valley Federal Bank will be lighting the fuse on fireworks for the 23rd straight year. “There’s a lot of things that we do that are important,” said Duane Bussey, president of the SLV bank. The bank spreads goodwill far and wide in the Valley with scholarships, helping the Boys & Girls Club and lending a hand to the region’s senior citizens, he said. “But this is something that’s an enjoyable benefit for everyone in the community.”

Alamosa’s Fourth went dark for a number of years in the nineties when donations to service clubs---the original sponsors---dried up. That’s when the bank stepped in. “There’s certainly a fair number of people who know we provide funding,” said Bussey. “But we do it without expectation of pats on the back. It’s important to share with the community.” The Alamosa Fourth extravaganza begins around 9:30 p.m. at the city’s rodeo grounds.

A few hours north of Alamosa, in Florence, the Fourth is an all-day event, said City Manager Mike Patterson. The town puts on a parade. This’ll be Patterson’s seventh. “It’s been great,” he said. But Florence’s parade is not your grandfather’s.

There are horses and floats; the traditional parade trappings, of course. But Florence adds a twist to its march down Main Street. “It’s a ‘wet parade’ with a massive water fight,” said Patterson. The town enlists the fire department’s big snorkel truck and most of the parade’s expected turnout of around 5,000 gets soaked. After the parade, crowds adjourn to the park for picnics and music. The town also waives admission for the water park---free swimming.

The Fourth in Florence also has something called the ‘Ducky Derby.’ Thousands of plastic, yellow ducks are floated in Sand Creek, the town’s drainage canal. The ‘derby’ is a fundraiser sponsored by the Florence and Cañon City Rotary Clubs.

America’s romance with Fourth of July fireworks is a tradition that goes back to John Adams, the country’s second president. Adams endorsed the idea of fireworks displays as a “moral booster.” He touted the idea of “guns” and “bonfires” and “illuminations.” Things haven’t changed.

Another thing that accompanies the Fourth and is as predictable as summer heat are Fourth of July injuries along with a handful of fatalities, many alcohol related. The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that there will be more than 11,000 fireworks-related injuries with 7,600 requiring emergency room visits. It says two of the most dangerous varieties of fireworks are sparklers, which burn at 1,200 degrees, and bottle rockets.

And while fireworks may dazzle humans, they have the opposite effect on dogs and cats. Pets can be traumatized by exploding fireworks and the number of runaway pets on this holiday skyrockets. Be considerate of four-legged friends.

Even though there are tons of fireworks stands across the metro area, each municipality has its own laws and regulations on what is legal to possess. Most fire officials say, ‘if it explodes or leaves the ground,’ it’s probably illegal. Of course, having illegal fireworks has minimal effect on the steady stream of consumers who make the annual trek to Wyoming every June and July. Just ninety minutes from Denver, pyrotechnic connoisseurs plop down the plastic to get the biggest bang for their buck.

Feliz cumpleaῆos, America. Have a safe holiday. May the Fourth be with you.





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