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MEEKER I Fireworks and the Fourth of July are inseparable traditions for most, if not all, Americans. People might think they have to head to the big city for a decent fireworks display, but Meeker residents and Range Call attendees know better. Thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers and donations from the community, Meeker’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display gets better every year.
“We’ve added a few nice things over the past couple of years, like the raising of the flag at the end with around a thousand red, white and blue fireworks,” said Todd Morris. For the last 15 years, Morris has been involved in the annual fireworks show. For 10 of those years, he’s been in charge of the production as a licensed pyrotechnician.
“I started by just being a loader and then moved into being a lighter,” Morris explained. “Then Jim Riegel retired and I took over for him.”
The fireworks show in Meeker began almost 30 years ago with “a few guys,” Bren Sullivan, Roger Clare and Riegel, among others.
“Roger Clare still comes and does the pageant and then the fireworks. He lives with his family in Grand Junction but comes home every Fourth to help out. Jim Riegel always stops by while we are loading and looks over everything to make sure there are no mistakes or traps to get someone hurt.”
The fire department’s record of safety during the fireworks is exemplary.
“Last year (2008) was the first and only time I can remember anyone getting hurt,” Morris said. Herald Times editor Jeff Burkhead was photographing the display and got some ash in his eye that required medical attention. “That’s what you get for looking up,” Morris added.
Unlike many towns, Meeker’s fireworks show is entirely dependent on donations from the public.
“When I took over we had a $3,500 show. Now it’s $10,000. We’ve been getting our fireworks from Fullom Fireworks ever since Jim was in charge, so we get a discount. Usually, we get around a $13,000 show for the $10,000 we raise.”
According to Morris, fireworks as a whole are changing worldwide. “We can no longer get a shell shipped into the United States larger than an 8-inch. We used to get 10-inch and 12-inch. They no longer make a 4-inch or 6-inch salute, which are the large ‘bang’ you hear. (But) you will not see any effects from these changes because we will take up the space with smaller shells.”
The fireworks are set off from the top of the hill near the cemetery. A team of 11 people, plus four fire department trucks and an ambulance, take time away from their own families on the Fourth of July to create a display that’s easily comparable to any of the larger communities in the region.
“They do it because they love it and they are serving their community. I know that without them this would be a tough job to do.”
The 11-person team includes three “can tenders,” six loaders and two shooters. The loaders load the shells. The can tenders keep the lids on the trash cans in case there is a low break or a fire. The shooters have their own bank of shells.
“Butch Smith shoots one (bank) and I shoot the other. Butch has been there as long as I have.”
On July 3, Morris and Smith put the fireworks together. At 8 a.m. on the Fourth they get all the pipes together and clean them out so there is no debris inside. The finale fireworks (at the beginning and end of the show) are loaded, usually by early afternoon.
“We have to tie all of them together with quick match, which is a type of fuse that is faster then the blink of an eye.”
The loaded fireworks can’t be left unattended, so Morris and Smith wait for dusk to fall. After the show, which lasts 35-40 minutes, the team stays around for an hour or so to check for stray sparks. The following day, the 4-H sheep club cleans up the area.
Donations can be sent to the Meeker Fire Department, at P.O. Box 737, Meeker, CO, 81641. “Without the support of the local businesses and commuity this money would be hard to come up with,” Morris said. Everyone who donates receives a thank-you mention in the newspaper.
The proximity of the fireworks to town makes for great viewing from almost anywhere, but City Park is a perennial favorite location. From that vantage point, the fireworks seem to be directly overhead. A collective round of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd accompanies the display in a fitting close to the celebration of our nation’s independence.