News & Politics

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.

Given the heat, power outages, and storm-related
devastation, it is understandable if some area jurisdictions and
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
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
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
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
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.