Concern over the unknown is halting 2021’s formal Fourth of July displays around the Tahoe region.
Nevada’s northern shores were the first to announce a cancellation. The Incline Village Crystal Bay Firework Coalition issued a statement on March 5, citing the Covid-19 pandemic and high tourism numbers from last summer as the reasons why.
On April 22, the Truckee Chamber of Commerce officially canceled the Fourth of July Parade and on April 27, officials canceled the July 3 Kings Beach fireworks and the Fourth of July shows at Donner Lake in Truckee and in Tahoe City.
A decision for South Lake shows won’t be made until May 21, according to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, too, has not determined whether its fireworks display will occur.
“We spent a lot of time laying everything out, what we could do, what we couldn’t do, could we make it work?” said Alyssa Reilly, executive director of the North Tahoe Business Association, which usually puts on the July 3 Fireworks and Beach Party in Kings Beach. “We all came together and decided this was the right decision for this time, with the hope and goals 100% to come back with a big, giant, beautiful, safe show for 2022.”
Reilly’s team checked projected visitation before making the final decision, explaining that they’re compiling reservation information for the 2021 holiday weekend all along the North Shore.
“We’re reporting higher than last year,” she said. “The visitation, we don’t see it being affected based on all the numbers we were able to pull ahead of having this conversation. People are going to be here, fireworks or not.”
The board of directors of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, host of Tahoe City’s Fourth of July Fireworks Show, chose to not host its annual celebration to protect public safety and discourage large gatherings, as well as fundraising challenges. The 75th Diamond Anniversary fireworks celebration for the TCDA is also expected to be held in 2022.
Placer County, the permit processor for the Tahoe City and Kings Beach firework events, considered stepping in to take over the , wanting to keep options open while seeking input from the community and other agency partners.
“We were trying to determine whether we should maybe contract with the organizations, the vendors, and see what happens and then make a call a couple months in advance,” said Erin Casey, principal management analyst at Placer County’s Tahoe office. “We were trying to buy time.”
Ultimately, with similar concerns around Covid-19 effects, tourism impacts, and fire danger, the county, too, chose to stand down.
“There is a difference between serving who’s already here and creating an attraction to bring even more,” said Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson of the decision. “We know, Fourth of July, we don’t need any more visitation. We are at peak capacity, so is there a way to celebrate without necessarily drawing a big activity?
“I think that’s the rub we’re feeling in our community, that some of these things that we always saw as a celebration and a feel-good time have now become attractors for others to come and maybe that isn’t the time or the situation we want right now.”
The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association is on board with the decision to cancel the Fourth of July fireworks displays, said President and CEO Jeff Hentz, echoing that the holiday is already region’s peak weekend, and there being no need to entice even more people to come.
The NLTRA is again pushing out its Know Before You Go guide, which encourages responsible and safe traveling from Tahoe’s visitors. Additionally, a new Traveler Responsibility Pledge, according to Liz Bowling with the NLTRA, “outlines expectations [of visitors] versus not having anything in place. We can’t expect people to demonstrate a behavior we want them to see without educating them on how to do that and telling them how we want them to act and be.”
The guides are dispersed through local media, social media platforms, destination management organization websites, and visitor centers around the Basin.
One of the expectations in the pledge concerns fire safety and explicitly states that fireworks are illegal in the Tahoe Basin at any time (they’re illegal in Truckee, too). Gustafson mentioned a potential link between canceling formal Fourth of July celebrations and an increase in individuals shooting off fireworks.
“By not having a public show, do you create people to want to go and buy their own and do them in their own yard?” she posed. “Is that an unintended consequence of this decision? I wish things were black and white … but it’s rarely that way.”
The North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District doesn’t have quantifiable 2020 data that would point to an uptick in use of illegal fireworks in Incline Village and Crystal Bay; nor do the North Tahoe Fire Protection and Truckee Fire Protection districts. In any case, the fire districts don’t patrol for firework enforcement; rather, it’s on the shoulders of police or sheriff departments.
To those seeking some form of holiday celebration, Laura Brown, public information officer with the TFPD (which accepts surrendered fireworks at its station 91, 10049 Donner Pass Rd.), shared the following: “Possession and discharge of fireworks are dangerous and are illegal in the Town of Truckee. You can cause great harm to yourself, your family, and your home if used. We live in a sensitive environment. A small spark from a firework can bury into combustible materials and smolder starting a large fire, even days after their use.”
Concern about wildfire is always a factor in the region — Moonshine Ink has an entire fire-related series on the matter — but this year is shaping up to be a big-risk summer. Chris Smallcomb, a meteorologist based in Reno’s National Weather Service office, said the Tahoe area is already above normal in terms of lack of snowpack and dry vegetation.
In fact, had the end-of-January snowstorm not happened, Smallcomb said, “we’d be potentially looking at historic precipitation deficits for the year.
“It goes to show you the difference that one storm or series of storms can make in our fortune.”
Even with that snowstorm, however, this past winter’s snowpack peaked in the 60% to 70% range of what’s normal around Tahoe. Again, not historic numbers, but compounding them with recent winters has weather watchers like Smallcomb worried about large fire potentials.
“I think we always need to be concerned about the potential for fireworks to start a fire,” he said. “… [But] this summer is one of those years to be extra careful for fire issues in the Tahoe area. You should always be careful but maybe this is a year to be a little extra careful on those things.”
The extra level of concern comes from back-to-back drier-than-normal winters, increasing drought, and snowpack melting off sooner than normal. Additionally, vegetation and timber are still feeling the effects from the major drought in 2014/15.
“When you put it all together,” Smallcomb said, “the outlook for the fire season in the Sierra, including around Tahoe, is far above normal wildfire activity level, and it could start sooner than normal.”