The 4th of July, Independence Day. The day when people get together and set off fireworks.
Usually great but there are those times when fun turns dangerous in a matter of seconds.
Here in Montana, fireworks get pretty crazy. We have a spot here in Conrad at the ball fields where it is pretty safe to set off fireworks without too much danger of fire. The fire department is always on hand just in case because it does turn into a chaotic mine field of rockets, mortars and fountains going off in every direction with everyone setting them off at once. It’s still fun though even if you have to look for flying shrapnel.
However, this year we decided to try something different. We went to a neighboring town, Choteau, for their actual fireworks show. I thought it would be nice to sit in safety and calm and just watch. But my kids had other ideas. They wanted fireworks. So we bought just a few and drove to Choteau.
The girl at the convenience store said the hill was the best place to watch so we drove up the hill. At the top just off the road was the Choteau Country Club. Not the fancy thing you’re imagining. This is Montana. It was just small building near the golf course. There was a big open gravel parking lot in front. Lining the edges were a lot of cars and pickups with families sitting around waiting for the show. Some were setting off a couple of fountains here and there so we parked and the kids started shooting off the stuff we had gotten.
Next to us were some of my daughter’s friends from school and they were shooting off a bunch of fireworks. The wind was starting to pick up but it wasn’t bad yet. We played around for about half an hour waiting for the show while people all over town were shooting off their own fireworks. It was fun and relaxing.
I don’t really know who it was. It wasn’t us or the kids next to us, but someone down the line walked out and set their big round munition out in the middle of the parking lot. However, they didn’t take the time to dig it down into the dirt or stack rocks around it like we had been. Soon it started shooting off rockets but the wind was pushing on it. Finally it toppled and one rocket shot between my jeep and the pickup next to us. I watched it shoot by. It ricocheted off a metal fence post in front of my jeep and went out. My head whipped around to see where the rest of the shots were going to go. Another one shot off to our right across the road and lodged under the sheriff’s patrol car that was sitting there. In seconds the very dry, very tall grass was on fire. He threw on his lights, backed up, and called it in, all in one swift motion.
People rushed forward intent on helping but no one had any water or shovels. The emergency siren went off. The fire had already spread about 20 feet.
We heard the fire engine sirens go off. Luckily they were just on the other side of the hill setting up for the big show. It was very quiet on the hill. No one was talking. We all just watched the fire burn waiting in confidence for the professionals to arrive.
By the time they arrived with three trucks. The fire had spread across the ditch to the field beyond the fence. It was not about 30 feet long and about 20 feet across. Someone had run across and opened the gate to the chain link fence so the fire trucks could reach the field.
I looked at the time stamp on my pictures and it was only about 5 minutes from the time the fire started to the time it was over. I have to say I was impressed.
The folks on the hill praised their quick response and went right back to shooting off fireworks. But that’s Montana for you. The show proceeded like planned and everyone had a great time.
But it does go to show that things can change in just a such a short amount of time. It could have been so much worse. If the wind had blown at a slightly different angle those stray rockets could have landed right in the open back hatch of my jeep, or hit some little kid, or hit the tanker truck that was parked across the road. We all could have been crispified. If the fire trucks hadn’t been just over the hill the fire could have spread though the whole field.
It made me think about preparedness. When I was a kid, everyone kept shovels and buckets in their trunks during the summer just in case there was a fire and you needed to help put it out. We don’t live like that anymore and I wonder why. Are we so complacent or is it the “it’s not my problem” mentality?
I don’t know, but I think I’m going to look for a shovel that will fit in my jeep. Just in case.
Happy 4th y’all and Stay safe!