Union’s fireworks show went off without a hitch, and area law enforcement said there were few notable problems during the Fourth of July holiday on Wednesday.

Bruce Weimer, chairperson of the Union County Fireworks Action Committee, said he would call the show a success, especially considering this was the first fireworks show in Union in recent history.

“The crowd was expected to be smaller, but it was still a good size,” Weimer said. “I judge the quality of the show by the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of people and it seemed they responded really well.”

The different location — moving the county’s only fireworks show from La Grande to Union — gave it a different perspective for people, which they seemed to enjoy, he said. The show was a bit shorter than in years past, which in large part was due to the amount of money the committee was able to put together on short notice as well as the rising cost of fireworks.

“We’re paying the same and less is going up in the air,” Weimer told The Observer. “We may need to start increasing the amount that we pay, which means we have to increase fundraising.”

Weimer’s committee is a private group that has taken it upon itself to put on the annual show. Weimer, a former La Grande Fire Chief, and the committee almost didn’t have a fireworks show this year due to the forced change in venue. Eastern Oregon University has been the location of the county’s show for three decades, but because of construction at the previous site, it no longer meets the regulations to set off the fireworks.

“It’s been a good run at the university. We’re grateful we were able to use it as much as we (did). I don’t begrudge them at all,” Weimer said. “I don’t think it hurt anyone to travel a little bit to support the event.”

Union County Sheriff’s Capt. Craig Ward reported there were no issues after the Union show.

“There were no drunk drivers, no problems whatsoever,” Ward said. “I was concerned that everyone was going to want to leave at once, but the arterials exiting the community worked out.”

He said there were sheriff’s deputies and Search and Rescue members at the show to help with security and provide a presence.

The fireworks show also has a danger of potentially starting a fire since the county is officially in fire season. La Grande Fire Chief Les Thomas said there were no fires reported in the county and according to the crew that worked Wednesday night, it was “pretty quiet.”

La Grande Police Lt. Gary Bell said there are always calls for illegal fireworks being used, but nothing serious was
reported this year.

“That’s a really good thing — very positive,” Bell said.

He said, historically speaking, the holiday can be a very active day for law enforcement.

“There were a total of six (illegal fireworks) reported to dispatch within the city limits,” Bell said. “There were five (reported) outside (the city limits) — in the Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. There were likely a few more that (weren’t reported), though.”

He said the police officers and sheriff’s deputies on duty observe illegal fireworks when they’re on patrol but it can be
challenging to find where they are coming from.

“It’s after dark when they’re shooting them off, mostly,” he said. “The legal fireworks are going on at the same time. It’s hard to tell.”

Bell said, generally speaking, law enforcement’s goal is to educate and gain compliance when they do find it happening.

“We tell residents about the dangers involved,” he said. “More often than not, people aren’t using (the illegal fireworks) maliciously. They’re just not thinking about it. However, we’ve had multiple fires start in town from illegal fireworks, so it’s a genuine concern of ours.”

He said this is a dry time of year, and bushes, trees and fields are all susceptible to catch fire from something as simple as a bottle rocket. He understands that people are celebrating the holiday and enjoying themselves, but he wants to make sure the community is safe.

Over in the City of Union, Weimer said, the city stepped up in a big way and will be taking on the planning of the Fourth of July fireworks show in the future.

“We’ll still help with the fundraising, but I think it will be a Union-led activity,” Weimer said.

As the show’s organization changes hands, there is more need than ever for volunteers. The committee is looking to get ideas on how to improve the show and seeking those who can help fundraise.

Doug Wiggins, Union’s city manager, said donations can be sent directly to the Union County Fireworks Action Committee at P.O. Box 135 in La Grande. He added the city will be putting together a committee of at least five people to help spearhead the implementation of the show.

“We’re looking for a good committee to help the city on the financial side of things,” Wiggins said.

For more information, contact 541-562-5197.

Contact Cherise Kaechele at ckaechele@lagrandeobserver.com . Follow Cherise

on Twitter @lgoKaechele.

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