Fourth of July celebrations in communities across greater Meriden will come with considerably less fanfare than in years past.
That's because public health advisories related to the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted municipalities and other groups that host large fireworks displays to forego holding such events. Large crowds typically flock to view the colorful pyrotechnic displays, thereby posing significant public health risks.
So that means no fireworks will be shot off from Hubbard Park in Meriden, an annual event city officials have said typically attracts between 1,500 to 2,000 spectators.
In Cheshire, a decades-long tradition of launching fireworks from the Kurtz Farms property on Peck Lane to commemorate Independence Day has temporarily halted.
Wallingford too will not hold its annual celebration, said Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., due to virus concerns.
“At this point, with COVID and all of the executive orders regarding public gatherings, there's no plans for fireworks,” Dickinson said.
Organizers with the town's 350th Jubilee Committee had previously decided to postpone events commemorating the anniversary of the town's founding, originally scheduled for this month, until 2021.
“At this point, I think with the uncertain nature of what will happen in the fall, the people involved in planning it all felt it should be next year,” Dickinson said.
Officials say there have been increased reports of residents shooting off of illegal fireworks in various places, including Meriden and Wallingford.
Meriden Mayor Kevin Scarpati said he and other elected officials have personally received numerous phonecalls from constituents complaining of illegal fireworks being launched in their neighborhoods.
“I'm not sure the reason why. Maybe it's because people are home, or because other fireworks not happening in other municipalities,” Scarpati said. “But I do know I have been receiving more complaints for illegal fireworks than I have in years past.”
The city's police department is stepping up enforcement to discourage residents from launching illegal fireworks placing a higher priority on those calls, Scarpati said.
While enforcement has increased, further details on the fines and penalties levied against those found to have launched illegal fireworks were not immediately available.
Wallingford Police Lt. Cheryl Bradley, that department's chief information officer, said police there have been getting complaints from residents reporting illegal fireworks on an almost nightly basis.
“It seems to have started earlier this year than it normally does,” Bradley said, noting that such activity typically has begun the week before July 4.
Bradley said evening and overnight patrol units have received instructions “to try to get out there proactively find where these are originating from, and take some fom of enforcement on this activity.”
“Anything that goes up into the air is illegal,” Bradley said. “We have been responding to more than usual... and we are trying to proactively get out in front of it.”
So far public safety officials have not received a medical calls or other fire emergency calls related to fireworks. Bradley warned of the risks, including fires, posed by pyrotechnics especially since there has been relatively little rainfall this month. She also advised residents who might be tempted to launch their own illegal fireworks to be conscientious of their neighbors, including children senior citizens and pets, who might be frightened by the loud bursts that accompany fireworks.
“It affects kids differently, older people, animals. We would ask that they take that into consideration,” Bradley said.
Bradley said handheld sparklers, which can't be launched, are fine.
Large scale fireworks displays may come back in 2021.
“For now, we're worried about keeping ourselves safe, our kids safe and that means not going out and buying our own illegal fireworks just so we can have a few minutes of joy,” Bradley said.
Elsewhere, Lake Compounce in Bristol has not formally announced the cancellation of its annual Fourth of July display. The amusement park, on its Facebook page and website announced it will officially open for the summer season on Monday, July 6, after the holiday weekend. Holders of season passes to the park will be able to visit the park starting July 1, according to announcement earlier this month.
That announcement also spells out a list of steps the park is taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the amusement park could not be reached.
In another community, Cheshire, the Kurtz family's self-funded fireworks display has essentially served as that town's annual Fourth of July celebration throughout a run that's been ongoing for decades.
The family announced recently that they will not be putting on the show, due to uncertainty around large public gatherings and other public health concerns posed by COVID-19.
Earl Kurtz III, reached Thursday afternoon, said, “Nobody was happy about it [the decision to cancel]. But we understand the way things are right now. We didn't want to put anyone's health at risk.”
Arnett Talbot, assistant town manager in Cheshire, said the annual event is “a generous private event” on the part of the Kurtz dfamily.
“They had done it for years. It's pretty incredible,” Talbot said.
Don Walsh, a Cheshire Town Councilor, said the display had been a continuous annual event in town for as long he can remember.
“It's been since my kids were young,” Walsh said. “And my daughter is 22.”
Walsh said some of the best areas to view the display are on Peck Lane, and in the area of Richard Chevrolet on Route 10. There are other areas as well.
Walsh expressed some disappointment about the decision to cancel. At the same time, he said he understood the Kurtz family's decision behind the cancellation.
Walsh said the Kurtz fireworks show is as good, if not better than fireworks displays hosted by other towns. And it's a privately funded event.
“They're a very generous family. And they've done a lot for this community,” Walsh said.
Cheshire Town Council Rob Oris Jr. remarked similarly about the Kurtz family's generosity. He further expressed hope that while that celebration will not be held, other events, including the town's annual Fall Festival, in September will go on, although likely different from prior events.
“We're trying to come up with a modified version of a fall event,” Oris said, noting it is being planned by town officials and the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.
“We understand the limitations we have,” Oris said. “We will try to come up with something that we thing is safe, and something that safely builds comraderie for the community.”