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How the Town of Normal prepares for July 4 fireworks after weeks without rain

 Two men smile at the camera, standing in front of a park bench and grassy knoll with greenery surrounding.
Lauren Warnecke
Matt Swaney, left, public information officer for the Normal Fire Department, and Doug Damery, director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Normal.

McLean County residents have plenty of choices to celebrate July 4. There’s the Classic Car Cruise in Bloomington, flea markets in Chenoa and Towanda, a beach volleyball tournament in Downs and the Kids Fishing Derby in Heyworth.

The Town of Normal has a big day planned in Fairview Park, beginning with an early bird swim from 9-10:30 a.m. for an entrance fee of $2. Family-friendly activities include bouncy houses, face painting and balloon animals beginning at 5:30 p.m., leading up to the annual “sky concert” fireworks display.

Bloomington and Normal coordinate their efforts, so spectators get exactly the same show at Fairview and Miller parks.

That’s a value add, said Doug Damery, director of parks and recreation for the Town of Normal. “The number of people drawn to each site is pretty taxing on the infrastructure of each park,” he said. “I think it’s kind of nice to spread people out a little bit. People can enjoy themselves a little bit more.”

In a multi-year agreement, St. Louis-based Gateway Fireworks Displays handles all the pyrotechnics. The rest is up to local parks and rec, police and fire departments to take care of.

“It’s a big, collaborated effort for one day, but overall it’s gone really well the last few years,” said Matt Swaney, public information officer for the Normal Fire Department. Swaney agreed the two identical shows are a win-win for the Twin Cities.

“From a traffic standpoint, having available parking and restrooms, I think it’s pretty great that we have both,” he said. “It really does take the burden off of one fire department and one police department.”

The Normal Fire Department monitors weather conditions to mitigate risk of fire from falling sparks during the sky concert. They are particularly wary of high wind, lightning and drought. Weeks without substantial rain in the Twin Cities means they will take extra precautions.

“If it’s exceptionally dry, we’ve brought our fire engines out to water the grass where they’re going to be firing from,” said Swaney. “Thankfully, where we’re firing from in Normal backs up against the ISU golf course, which is irrigated.”

Rain creates challenges for Normal Parks and Recreation that handles all the pre-fireworks activities for the town’s July 4 festivities, so the dry conditions actually work in their favor.

“We’re going to be pretty much business as usual,” Damery said.

For now, Tuesday’s forecast is looking good. Gateway Displays will shoot off fireworks in the rain, but lightning is cause for cancellation. Poor air quality at unhealthy levels similar to Tuesday and Wednesday also could be cause for cancellation.

“If we see some potential risky weather, we may put in extra precautions,” Damery said, “to be able to get people out quicker, or (provide) notification. That’s the key, getting the notification out."

Drought and wind impact the safety of home fireworks, too, which Swaney warns against using.

“Commercial-grade fireworks are illegal in the state of Illinois. We want people to defer to the professionals when it comes to pyrotechnics,” Swaney said. “It doesn’t take much to really hurt yourself and cause irreversible injury.”

Violations can result in steep fines, and even jail time.

“We just want people to come out to the public display and enjoy that,” said Swaney. “It’s a great show and you don’t have to worry about losing a finger or arm.”

Due to the drought, the City of Peoria recently banned sparklers and other legal, small fireworks this year. The Twin Cities has not banned them, but Swaney has these reminders on responsible use.

“Make sure the kids know that they are really hot and dangerous,” he said, recommending extinguishing sparklers in water and making sure they are cold before disposal. “We don’t want anything to reignite later, especially with as dry as the climate is right now.”

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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