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Is a Storm-Tossed Region Ready to Celebrate the Fourth of July?
The National Park Service says there are no changes with Mall fireworks, but Montgomery County cancels several events. By Carol Ross Joynt
Comments () | Published July 3, 2012

Given the heat, power outages, and storm-related devastation, it is understandable if some area jurisdictions and families plan to put a hold on celebrating July Fourth. But the National Park Service says the fireworks on the Mall will go on as planned. We asked spokesman Bill Line if he thinks the storm-tossed region is ready for the annual celebration. “Yes,” he said. “Absolutely yes.” Ironically, he said it from his Hains Point office, which has been without power since Friday night.

On the other hand, Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett feels the region he oversees is still “pretty bad,” and for that reason fireworks programs have been canceled or postponed in Gaithersburg, Germantown, Kensington, and Rockville. (Fireworks in Takoma Park, however, will go on as scheduled, at 9:30 PM at Takoma Park Middle School.) “It’s unfortunate but the right thing to do,” he says. “It would be a public safety challenge.” He says police and fire and rescue resources already are working to the max on the storm recovery.

“We had a rough two or three days,” Leggett told us in a phone conversation. “And there are still challenges ahead”—including 144 intersections still without working traffic lights and 70,000 customers without power.

Leggett is frustrated with Pepco and what he considers a lack of aggressiveness in getting the power restored in his county. “Pepco says the power will be back on by July 6, but that’s simply not acceptable.” He’s been talking to Pepco officials regularly, and we asked what he said to them in their last conversation. “To redouble their efforts, don’t spare expenses, [and] resolve this sooner rather than later,” he replied. He concedes it was an “unpredictable storm, but my frustration is with what happened after the storm, when [Pepco] didn’t get crews in fast enough and we had a disaster on our hands.”

In Gaithersburg, acting city manager Tony Tomasello says that while “everything’s up and running” he still canceled the July Fourth fireworks at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. “We took one for the team,” he says. “We could have had that show, but Pepco’s main command center is on our fairgrounds. To move them even for a day would have slowed down the power restoration program for the region. We did not want to be the ones who did that.”

What he hopes to organize is a “lights back on” party in a couple of weeks. “Since every other major show in the county was canceled and not rescheduled, we’re going to invite the county. The fireworks are already paid for, and the vendor is willing to come back at no cost.” County executive Leggett plans to explore this same option with other county jurisdictions that had to cancel the fireworks. He prefers rescheduling rather than canceling flat out.

What the cancellations could mean for downtown Washington is that more people will head to the Mall for the estimated 17 minutes and 13 seconds of fireworks put on by Pyro Shows. Again, Line says the NPS is ready, even if that includes a possible afternoon thunderstorm. He says as of midday Tuesday there is a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms between 4 and 6 PM on Wednesday. The fireworks are scheduled to start at 9:10. If a storm with lightning were to happen, the Mall would be evacuated, a procedure the Park Service has had to deal with on three separate July Fourths over the past decade.

“We have plenty of prior experience with this,” says Line. “If it becomes necessary to evacuate the Mall we have a shelter-in-place program.” In that instance, both park police and DC police will direct people to buildings along the Mall, including the Smithsonian, which would be opened. “Hopefully none of this will come to pass,” Line says.

The temperature tomorrow is expected to be another scorcher, just shy of 100 degrees with moderate humidity. There will be a dozen first-aid tents on the Mall, each fully staffed with medical specialists, ice, and cool drinks. “The main thing is that we want people to be ready,” says Line. “They should bring plenty of water to hydrate themselves. Coffee and alcohol are your enemies in the heat. Water and juices are your friends. Also your appetite is suppressed. Bring granola or trail mix, some kind of energy food with a little salt in it.”

And as everyone surely knows, the most efficient way to get to the Mall is on Metrorail, hopping off at stations such as Smithsonian, Metro Center, Archives, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Judiciary Square, Federal Triangle, and L’Enfant Plaza.

If you don’t want to make the trek to the Mall, there are other options. A fireworks display will be launched from the Annapolis Harbor at 9:15 PM. In Northern Virginia there will be fireworks displays at 9:30 at Fairfax High School, George Mason High School, and the Herndon Community Center. Langley High School has fireworks at 9:15. Leesburg offers fireworks at 9:30 at Ida Lee Park, Reston at 9:15 at Lake Fairfax Park, and Vienna at 9:15 at the Vienna Community Center.

It’s always best to check local community websites before heading out to parades and fireworks displays. With the circumstances of the past three days and tomorrow’s forecast, changes are possible.

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Posted at 01:45 PM/ET, 07/03/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs