Bel Air braces for the Fourth Last year's woes prompt precautions

June 27, 1993|By Aminah Franklin | Aminah Franklin,Staff Writer

Bel Air hopes for better luck this Fourth of July.

Last year, the celebration a state fire official dubbed "the Fourth of July from hell" lasted all of 15 minutes. Unexploded shells sailed into the crowd of 50,000, and several spectators reported eye injuries because of blowing ash.

Two men were charged with launching a military flare that traveled 200 yards over trees and spectators and landed on the roof of Bel Air High School, setting it afire. A car fire disrupted the parade route, and gas fumes filled Bel Air Middle School and a nearby restaurant.

This year, members of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee say they've taken steps to avoid a similar debacle.

Police Chief Leo Matrangola, in charge of security and parking for the committee, said the "safety zone" around the fireworks -- the area off-limits to spectators -- has been extended a few hundred yards to reach beyond the middle school.

Fencing now blocks a walkway near the woods to prevent people from wandering into the area where the fireworks are launched Sunday night.

In addition, 5-inch shells will replace the 6-inch shells used last year because the smaller shells don't shoot as high and are less likely to be blown by strong winds, Mr. Matrangola said.

Within the safety zone, two police officers on bicycles will be on constant patrol, and fire trucks will be strategically placed near the high school and other areas so they can respond to emergencies more quickly, he said.

He added that officials are still looking into the possibility of setting up a public address system so people can be more easily notified of a change in plans or directed to certain areas when necessary.

"We will make certain the area is completely safe," Mr. Matrangola said.

If winds blow greater than 20 mph or it begins to rain, the fireworks display will be stopped, said Mr. Thomas, who attributes part of last year's fiasco to the strong breezes that blew unexploded shells and debris into a crowd of about 50,000.

But Mr. Thomas said last year's events were "freak occurrences" that he doesn't think will be repeated.

"There has been superior planning so far and I think this will be one the better fireworks displays this town has ever seen," he said.

For the first time in at least a decade, the Fourth of July holiday falls on a Sunday, so the planning committee voted to spread the festivities out over two days, leaving most of Sunday morning and afternoon open so church services will not be disrupted, said Michael Blum, parade coordinator.

"There was a lot of feeling that Sunday morning is set aside for families and religious observances," he said, "and we don't want to make people feel like they have to choose between going to church and celebrating the Fourth."

Kickoff for the weekend festivities is set for 6:45 a.m. Saturday, with a flag-raising ceremony at the middle school. That will be followed by a pancake and sausage breakfast, which costs $4 for adults and $2.50 for children under 12.

People attending the celebration can participate in a frog-jumping contest, turtle derby, bicycle rodeo, watermelon-eating contest and other activities at the middle school from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

On Sunday, another flag-raising is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. and thethe parade for 6 p.m. It will include about 25 floats, 17 bands, drum and bugle corps, majorette corps, color guards and several classic cars. The parade begins at U.S. Route 1 and Route 24 near Harford Mall.

And not to fear, plenty of fire trucks will be on display. Last year's dispute between the county's volunteer fire departments

and the planning committee is "water under the bridge," Mr. Blum said.

Fire companies said they wouldn't participate in the parade last year after the committee members tried to limit the number of vehicles and other equipment they could enter in the parade.

Mr. Blum said the argument was resolved last year and that about 34 pieces of volunteer fire equipment -- the same number as last year -- will be featured in the parade on Sunday.

After the parade, onlookers will be treated to a patriotic concert by the Bel Air Community Band.

Fireworks culminate the celebration, beginning at 9:30 p.m. behind Bel Air High School. The rain date for the fireworks display is Monday, July 5, at 9:30 p.m.

Fireworks Productions Inc. of Glen Rock, Pa., which set up and shot the fireworks last year, will do so again. The company violated no regulations last year and was not responsible for the problems, said Ed Hopkins, assistant chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company.

Mr. Hopkins blamed defective manufacturing for problems with some of last year's fireworks.

INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS

BEL AIR

Saturday:

6:45 a.m.: flag-raising ceremony, Bel Air Middle School

a.m.-10:30 a.m.: pancake and sausage breakfast

9:00 a.m.: horseshoe pitching

9:30 a.m.: turtle derby

11 a.m.: Uncle Sam Says

Bicycle registration and rodeo

Frog-jumping contest

1 p.m.: watermelon-eating contest

1:30 p.m.: model car-racing finals

Sunday:

6:45 a.m.: flag-raising ceremony, Bel Air Middle School

p.m.: parade, beginning at U.S. 1 and Route 24 near Harford Mall

9 p.m.: patriotic band concert

9:30 p.m.: fireworks behind Bel Air High School

HAVRE DE GRACE

Tuesday-Friday:

7 p.m.: carnival at Tydings Park

Saturday:

1 p.m.: carnival at Tydings Park

3 p.m.: parade on Union Avenue from Legion Square to Tydings Park

7 p.m.: concert featuring country singer Misty

and pop-rock band Jam Trax

9:15 p.m.: Fireworks at Tydings Park

Sunday:

1 p.m.: carnival at Tydings Park

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