Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Fireworks show may not happen


Fourth of July fireworks displays in the Upper Lynn Canal appear to be fizzling.  

Municipal officials in Haines and Skagway have failed to find a replacement for licensed pyrotechnician Phillip Wilde, who said he wouldn’t be putting on the municipal fireworks displays after 2013. Wilde cited “drama, politics and stress” as reasons for quitting.

Haines Borough manager David Sosa said staff has called the Juneau Chamber of Commerce to ask if Haines might share its technicians, but Juneau apparently doesn’t have any to spare.

“Unless a solution is found, there will not be a fireworks display for the Fourth of July,” Sosa said.

Wilde said in an interview Tuesday morning he was considering putting on a private display in Haines, though it would use consumer-grade fireworks instead of the commercial-grade ones associated with public displays.

“We are discussing possibly doing something for the Fourth, but it would be classified as a private show. That doesn’t mean the public wouldn’t be able to watch,” Wilde said Tuesday.

Consumer-grade fireworks – such as ones that can be purchased at roadside stands – don’t require a permit and don’t provide as much “bang” as commercial-grade ones: they don’t rocket as high, nor do they burst as wide.

“They are beautiful, but you are going to have a lot lower level of height. You are not going to see a big shell going up 1,000 feet high with a big burst,” Wilde said. “These are items I can sell to the general public.”

Wilde said Tuesday morning he hadn’t heard from the borough. “Nobody has given me a call. I figure with the way the borough works, they will probably hit me up July 2.”

However, Sosa said at Tuesday night’s assembly meeting staff had spoken with Wilde and Wilde would be submitting a proposal to the borough for consideration.

By Wednesday morning, discussions had collapsed. Wilde decided he wasn’t interested in dealing with the bureaucracy surrounding a town show.

“He rescinded the offer. I got an email this morning and that was that. Now we are scratching our heads to see if we can find another option,” Sosa said.

Wilde said in an interview Wednesday night he wanted to do the private show and rent a float to set the fireworks off from the water, but borough staff started making things complicated.

“I wanted to do something special, and they wanted to turn it back into a professional show, and I didn’t want to do it. That means the permits, the stress and the drama, and I didn’t want to do that,” Wilde said.

Wilde said he wanted to donate his time and fireworks for the private show, but the borough wouldn’t have it. “It was, ‘Who is going to provide the insurance? Could I be under the borough’s insurance? Am I covered?’ and all that kind of stuff. That is the headache and that was all the stress from last year. I stopped doing that,” he said.

Sosa said staff has been in contact with another technician, though “a lot has to come together to make it happen.”

Skagway is in the same boat as Haines.

Charles Stearns, an employee at the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau, said staff looked everywhere for a licensed pyrotechnician to put on a Fourth of July show for the town. Tourism director Carlin “Buckwheat” Donahue even looked to the Interior for a licensed technician, but everyone was either booked or not interested.

“Skagway really rattled the cages and shamelessly begged, but there is just no way to make it happen,” Stearns said. “No stone was left unturned.”

Wilde said he wouldn’t consider doing a show in Skagway because of the regulatory burden placed on him by a Skagway Fire Department permit, which leaves him personally liable for damage. 

“They want me to sign my life away personally, and I can’t afford that,” he said.

Last year, the public fireworks display for Haines cost the borough $4,000. Wilde estimated he could put on a 15-20 minute show with the consumer-grade fireworks for about $2,000.

“It’s much less expensive for the consumer stuff,” he said.