It's official: Shastice is new site of Mount Shasta Fourth of July fireworks show

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
Pyrotechnic crews set off fireworks from the shore of Lake Siskiyou on the Fourth of July in 2019.

It’s official: Mount Shasta’s Fourth of July fireworks show will take place at Shastice Park this year, provided the weather and the pandemic cooperate.

The Mount Shasta City Council on Monday unanimously approved a plan for an 18-minute “sky concert,” shot from the park’s upper soccer field, as well as an Independence Day celebration with live music, vendors and food booths.

The council’s decision was preceded by a presentation from pyrotechnic operator Tom Haistings, who outlined the safety precautions his crew will take, as well as comments from 13 residents who voiced their staunch opposition.

A group of volunteers worked to make the Mount Shasta Fourth of July fireworks show a reality in 2019. Left to right are Tom Haistings, Jerry Hill, Steve Fahrney, Bethany Golly, Alissa Zarr, Mark Bruni, Ken Burnside, Michelle Smith, Tyler Witherell, Nicole Gunkel, Talon Baldwin, Brooklyn Tupman, Laryssa Coates, Gregg Gunkel, Bonnie Graham, Warren Bree and Reese Miller.

Mount Shasta Fire Department Chief Matt Melo said Haistings has more than 20 years experience as a pyrotechnic operator and is “very skilled at what he does.” He said the fireworks show has “minimal risk” and is highly regulated.

Councilor Tim Stearns pointed to recent thinning projects that were recently completed near the park.

“I know that Tom Haistings and Matt Melo are both very fire conscious, conservative and professional,” Stearns said. “Neither one of them would say ‘proceed’ if we are risking fire in our community.”

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During his presentation, Haistings said Shastice Park has been considered as an alternative site for the city’s fireworks show for about eight years. Traditionally held over Lake Siskiyou, the show can’t be held there in 2021 because the Mount Shasta Resort, which usually opens its greens as a place for people to watch the show, is unable to do so this year.

Without that extra space, there won’t be enough room for thousands of people to watch the show from areas around Lake Siskiyou, Haistings said. 

There are other obstacles to holding the fireworks show at the lake, Haistings said, including the necessity to fire the shells high in the air so everyone can see the show – creating a large fallout area, some of which is over brush and trees – and the inability for the fireworks crew to control the crowd. In addition, there is only one egress from the lake area, creating a safety hazard in the case of fire or other emergency.

Fireworks are traditionally set off from the shores of Lake Siskiyou in Mount Shasta on the evening of the Fourth of July.

Because of these mounting concerns, Haistings said the Mount Shasta Fireworks Committee developed a “what if” plan to hold the show at Shastice Park. 

“This is the “what if” year,” Haistings said. 

Stearns said the fact that this isn’t a last minute decision makes him feel comfortable about having the show there.

Stearns also pointed out that Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced the state will be fully reopened by June 15, a statement that councilor Jeffrey Collings echoed.

Haistings said in order for the show to happen, he has to have a permit from the state fire marshal, and it has to be signed off by Melo. If there is wind or other factors that would make the show unsafe, Melo could call it off at any time, even minutes before it's set to start.

Although she said she doesn’t want to “be the captain of no fun,” Mount Shasta’s Stacia Anderson said having a fireworks show in town is inhumane for animals that are startled by loud noises. She also raised concerns about parking in local neighborhoods and chemical residue from the fireworks leaching into the soccer field.

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“I think it’s a huge risk and I think it’s totally irresponsible this year,” said Joyce Dufficy, who encouraged a celebration with music, food and drink, but asked the councilors to skip the fireworks. “And our dogs, if they could vote, would totally agree.”

Vicki Gold asked the council to consider an alternative, such as broadcasting fireworks shows from the East Coast on large outdoor screens. She said people in fire-stricken communities such as Talent, Oregon would think Mount Shasta is crazy for having such a dangerous event, calling it “an accident waiting to happen.”

Betty Kreeger said fireworks can be harmful for people with breathing problems, and said people are always confident until the worst happens. 

“This is not a good time to be putting on a fireworks display,” said Kreeger, adding her support for a celebration that doesn’t include fireworks.

“I really can’t tell you how strongly I feel about you voting ‘no,’” said Lynda Hardy.

“This isn’t a time to risk a spark,” said Jim Hardy, adding he’ll be “pretty unhappy” if a fire starts, and he’ll be coming to whichever councilors vote in favor of the display for an explanation if that happens.

Former councilor Barbara Wagner said she is confident in Haistings’ ability to have a safe show, but she’s concerned about having a big social event while COVID lurks.

“I hear the concerns about fire safety. I hear the concerns about social distancing and COVID,” said Stearns. “(We have a) group of professionals who are amongst the best ... in the state saying ‘we can do this and if there is a fire danger, we will pull the plug,’ so I am in favor of proceeding at this point in time.”

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Councilor Tessa Montgomery asked about evacuation routes and whether fire lanes would be open in case “one in a million does happen,” and a dangerous fire were to start as a result of the show.

Melo said the fire lanes would be open, and Haistings said water tenders will be on site during the event. In addition, the fireworks crew will be working with the Mount Shasta Recreation and Parks District, which owns the park and previously approved its use for the show, to ensure the grass is well watered in the days leading up to the show.

“I have a spotless record throughout California,” Haistings said of his pyrotechnic license, with no reportable incidents, “and I intend to keep it that way.”

Haistings said fireworks have been a Fourth of July tradition in Mount Shasta for 100 years or more. 

Although Shastice seems like a small park, in actuality it’s “a fairly good-sized park,” he said. Aerial surveys show it has a square footage of 290,000, excluding the safety zone where the show will be shot off, which would allow for 10,000 people to attend such a celebration, even accounting for social distancing.

People will be able to walk into the park from all directions, and the event will be free. Families can bring wagons, a picnic dinner, or purchase food at the event, Haistings said. 

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And because people will be closer to the firing site at Shastice, Haistings said he can use smaller shells and keep them lower in the air, minimizing the fallout zone.

“We’ll be able to mitigate anything that pops up that’s unforeseen,” said Haistings. “We’ll be able to put out (a fire) before it even knows its gonna start.”

The event will have an impact on local neighborhoods, but Haistings said he is working with Mount Shasta Police Department Sgt. Gibson on a traffic control plan which will aid in keeping traffic moving steadily once the show is over. And he believes the traffic situation will be safer in town than it was at the lake since there is room for people to exit in several directions.

The motion to approve the plan was made by Stearns and seconded by councilor John Stackfleth, followed by three ‘ayes’ from Montgomery, councilor Jeffrey Collings and Mayor John Redmond, who voiced his strong support for the event without reservation.

"The Beach" at the Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort is always crowded on the Fourth of July, where people stake a claim to watch the fireworks show that's traditionally fired over the water.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.