The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the pop and boom out of the area’s Fourth of July weekend.
Governmental rules and recommendations in place to stop the spread of the virus has canceled a host of holiday festivals and events — including big fireworks displays.
No municipality in Ashtabula County is hosting a display this weekend, the first time in recent memory fireworks were scrubbed due to anything but poor weather or budgetary concerns.
“It’s going to be a whole different way to celebrate this year,” said Stephanie Siegel, Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director.
The only show planned for this weekend will be tonight at Raceway 7 in Monroe Township. The oval race track on Route 7 will feature a “fireworks spectacular” as part of its entertainment lineup, according to a message on the venue’s answering machine. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and racing starts two hours later.
Groups that coordinated displays in Conneaut and Geneva-on-the-Lake have abandoned those plans, mindful of social-distancing guidelines recommended by health experts. In Geneva-on-the-Lake, the village’s Kiwanis Club traditionally conducted a display, said Mayor Dwayne Bennett.
Community health concerns put an end to the village’s annual extravaganza, Bennett said. No other fireworks show is usually held in Geneva-on-the-Lake, he said.
Conneaut’s Fourth of July Festival Committee sent skyward a display to cap its weekend festival at Lakeview Park. Due to COVID-19, the festival was canceled, along with the fireworks.
It marks the second straight year Conneaut has been denied a display at the lakefront. In 2019, the exhibitor could not reach the usual staging area on the Lake Erie beach because sand was too wet, bogging down trucks and preventing setup of launch mortars.
Last year, the Conneaut Area Chamber of Commerce came to the rescue, adding a fireworks show to its Perch and Pilsner Festival held in early September at Conneaut Township Park. The Chamber has not made a decision whether to hold its festival this year, said Wendy DuBey, executive director.
“We’re still waiting to see,” she said earlier this week.
Ashtabula residents have enjoyed a fireworks display held during the Wine and Walleye Festival, but that event was ruled a no-go weeks ago. No other display is anticipated, said Greg Church, executive director for the Greater Ashtabula Chamber of Commerce.
Folks who need a fireworks fix are turning to home-grown displays, much to the concern of Ohio’s state fire marshal’s office, which oversees such pyrotechnics.
“Basically anyone who wants to legally discharge fireworks in the state needs to be a licensed exhibitor,” said Brian Bohnert, public information officer for the state fire marshal’s office. “One thing we’re seeing is a pretty good surge in unlicensed exhibitions.”
Safety is the main worry when amateurs try to replicate big-time shows in their back yards. In Ohio, the only kind of fireworks that can be legally discharged are trick and novelty items that “smoke, sparkle, snap and snake,” according to a press release issued by the state fire marshal’s office late last month.
Adult supervision is urged when using those novelty fireworks, according to the statement. Sparklers should only be used by children age 12 and older to minimize the risk of injury, according to the agency.
Communities across Ohio have canceled displays due to COVID-19, Bohnert said.
“There’s obviously a concern, he said.
Residents are disappointed, but the big priority this summer is public health, Bohnert said.
“It’s an unprecedented year,” he said. “Nothing should come as a surprise.”