July 4 celebrations return amid slowing pandemic, rising heat and wildfire risk

For the first time in two years, Fourth of July festivities are back in Idaho Falls.

The celebrations come at an odd crossroads of rejoice and risk.

On the one hand, coronavirus infections and restrictions have dropped dramatically as most Idaho adults have been at least partially vaccinated. But on the other hand, across the Pacific Northwest, sweltering temperatures make outdoor activities more strenuous and dry ground elevates wildfire risk.

Event organizers say eastern Idahoans are prepared to show up in droves. For the Independence Day parade Saturday morning, police expect 100,000 attendees across three miles of closed off streets.

“Freedom is always a big thing. With the loss of freedoms and and mobility that we saw over the last year due to COVID-19, I think people are really excited to be able to express themselves and they’re really grateful for the freedoms that this wonderful country offers us,” said Chip Schwarze, CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, which organized the parade. He said attendees will likely be a mix of local and regional residents, along with people visiting nearby attractions.

The events

Saturday will kick off with the parade at 9 a.m., featuring 110 entries and Gov. Brad Little as grand marshal. Schwarze said all together, the floats span a mile. The parade runs from near Idaho Falls High School to Fourth Street to South Boulevard to Tautphaus Park. City officials and religious volunteers from 39 faith-based organizations dressed in bright T-shirts will collect donated money, canned goods and non-perishable food items for local food pantries.

Later in the day, Riverfest — a family friendly event with activities for children, food vendors and music performers near Snake River landing — will commence. Concerts start at 11:30 a.m. and kids’ activities start at noon. Events end around 9 p.m.

At 10 p.m., the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration fireworks show begins. The show, which Melaleuca says is “the largest Independence Day fireworks show west of the Mississippi River,” will last for 31 minutes. It is synchronized with music that will be aired on KLCE Classy 97.3 FM.

To learn more about vendors, concerts and parking, visit riverfestidaho.com.

Tips to stay safe

If you’re heading to Riverfest this year, come early and stay hydrated, said Bill Fuerst, general manager at Riverbend Communications.

“Come early afternoon so that you can avoid the rush of people and get good parking spaces. There’s lots of parking but we see the very long lines at the food vendor areas around dinner time,” Fuerst said.

Also, to avoid the heat, he said the area has several shady spots with picnic tables and people can bring canopies so long as they are taken down by 9 p.m. People can bring their own water.

High temperatures, dry ground and fireworks allow fires to thrive. Idaho Falls Fire Department Chief Duane Nelson said in a news release last week that he’s seen “more house fires in Idaho Falls over the last year than in any previous year in my career as a firefighter.” His department is urging people to exercise caution this year.

“All of the fires are unrelated and started because of different reasons, making it challenging to pinpoint why we are experiencing an upward trend. We are also seeing a rise in traumatic injuries as people get out and recreate. Please take extra precautions around your home and while outdoors. We do not want to see any more lives lost,” Nelson said.

Last July, spent fireworks in a trashcan engulfed a house early in the morning on July 5.

Aerial fireworks are illegal to launch in Idaho, but they are still commonly sold in-state.

To be safe, the fire department says you should:

— Never light fireworks inside a structure.

— Point fireworks away from people and structures. Keep fireworks away from brush, leaves and other flammable materials.

— Keep a 40 foot clear space, at minimum, when lighting fireworks. Stand several feet away once lit.

— Have tools to put out a fire, such as a bucket of water, hose or fire extinguisher.

— Once used, completely submerge spent fireworks in a bucket of water and soak overnight. Never place spent fireworks in a plastic garbage can or near a structure or other flammable material.

— Supervise children. Never let young kids play with or ignite fireworks. Only children 16 years old and up may light fireworks.

— Test smoke alarms routinely.

— Plan, discuss and practice fire escape plans with all family members.

— If a fire does occur, get out, stay out and call 911 immediately.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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