By Bill Robinson
RICHMOND — A weather report that predicted a lightning-laden storm cell would be over Richmond at 10 p.m. on July 4 prompted organizers of the city's Independence Day celebration to launch fireworks 30 minutes early.
Radio station WCYO, which had a live remote set up at Lake Reba Park, where Richmond’s Fireworks Extravaganza took place, began announcing at 9:10 p.m. that the fireworks would go off early, said Lori Murphy-Tatum, Richmond Tourism executive director.
Still, many people did not get the message and were bitterly disappointed when they arrived too late to see the fireworks display.
Children of families that planned to arrive around 15 minutes or less prior to the scheduled launch at 10 p.m. were particularly upset, those who called or sent emails to the Richmond Register said.
“We could see lightning on the horizon by 9 p.m.,” Tatum said, “and the forecast warned that it would be over Richmond before 10 p.m.”
After consulting with the firm contracted for the fireworks show and city officials, the decision to launch early was made, she said.
“A fireworks set up is very volatile and extremely vulnerable to a lightning strike,” Tatum added. “We always err on the side of caution when the safety of employees, contractors or the public is at stake.”
Rescheduling the fireworks was not an option, she added.
Only trained, certified professionals may launch the type of fireworks used for the July 4 display, Tatum said.
Even if taking down the fireworks array and reloading it for storage or transport was feasible with lightning on its way, the contractor could not have returned to Richmond until a month or more. And, the city’s contract called for the show to go off only on July 4. Rescheduling would have meant a new contract and its additional expense, she said.
The sky cleared and the lightning threat did not materialize, but officials could not have known that when the decision had to be made, Tatum said.
“We’re very sorry that anyone missed the fireworks, especially the children who were eager to see them,” she said. “But with the information we had and potential risks we faced, the best course was to launch them early.”
In Berea, where the city also sponsored a fireworks show, the display was launched just a few minutes ahead of schedule.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 624-6690.