July 4 in Colorado

Boulder Colorado fireworks
Fourth of July fireworks illuminate the University of Colorado campus. | Photo by Theodore Chen / flickr.com

Staff writer

Besides the natural wonders of Colorado, where the July 4 holiday provides countless opportunities for camping and outdoor activities, visitors also enjoy the traditional parades and fireworks displays.

Here are some words of caution, however, about fireworks and about camping.

Colorado summers can be very dry. At best, the state averages about 18 inches of precipitation each year. Some years, with less snowpack and rain, the forests and grasslands become tinder-dry, and the result is a propensity for wildfires, often spread quickly by wind.

In 2012, for example, when the state had received less than 20 percent of average precipitation during the winter, wildfires caused thousands of residents to be evacuated from their homes, killed six people and destroyed 650 homes. The 24-square-mile Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs in June 2013 forced 32,000 evacuations, destroyed more than 350 homes — many inside the city limits — and killed two people. Earlier that month, the High Park Fire near Fort Collins killed one, destroyed more than 50 homes and devastated more than 130 square miles of land.

So it is understandable that Coloradans might get nervous about the prospect of people lighting fires and setting off fireworks. Although some fires are started by lightning, many are caused by carelessness or arson.

Almost all public fireworks displays were canceled on July 4, 2012, and campfire bans in most parts of the state were in effect at many times during the spring and summer. Be sure to check with officials where you are staying to make sure you are within the law and ensure your safety and that of everyone around you.

For current fire ban and restriction information, see the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management website at www.dhsem.state.co.us.

Also pay attention to laws governing purchase and use of fireworks in the state, some of which may seem contradictory. If you feel the need to use fireworks, check with authorities where you are staying.

Especially in dry years, all personal fireworks use is often banned. Even in not-so-dry years, most cities and some counties prohibit fireworks that explode or leave the ground, unless they are part of pre-approved public displays. Sparklers or other low-impact fireworks may be permitted but check before you use them.

Fireworks stands do sell their wares in some parts of the state, however. The irony is that they are still for sale even if not legal to use.