Smoke affects festival

Published 4:09 am Friday, June 13, 2008

By Staff
Fireworks, triathlon casualties of wildfire
Staff Writer
If Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce officials don’t get the weather they’re hoping for this weekend, more than turkey legs might be smoked at Washington’s Summer Festival.
No matter what happens with the Evans Road wildfire in Hyde, Washington and Tyrrell counties, the 2008 festival will happen. Dense smoke from the fire has resulted in some Summer Festival casualties, said Catherine Glover, executive director of the Washington/Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce. Some festival events have been postponed or eliminated
The fireworks display, one of the annual festival’s major attractions, has been canceled. Officials said any fireworks-related mishap sparking a fire could lead to disaster, Glover said.
Because firefighters and their equipment are busy fighting the Evans Road fire northeast of Washington, only a skeleton crew remains behind to fight any local fires that may start. Officials warned that any fire ignited by an errant spark could easily outstrip available manpower, Glover said.
The fireworks will definitely be used at some other point this year, though exactly when has not been decided yet because the decision to cancel the pyrotechnics show wasn’t made until Thursday afternoon, Glover said.
The festival’s triathlon, which drew more than 100 registrants, is in its first year. It has been postponed until June 21. It has been scheduled for Saturday morning.
Although weather and air-quality conditions could be improved by Saturday morning, canceling the triathlon would be a major inconvenience for its participants coming from out of state, said race director Jason Biggs.
The biking and running portions of the race would be particularly strenuous in smoky conditions, he said.
If the smoke persists to June 21, the race will have to be postponed again, this time until sometime in July, he said.
Some triathletes can’t make it because of the change, but others continue to register, Biggs said.
The decision whether to run the Not 2 Hot 2 Trot 2 race, which is a 5K run, will be made this morning, Glover said.
The festival, which was expected to bring about 30,000 visitors to Washington, has a major economic impact every year, Glover said.
No dollar figure exists for the festival’s impact, but gas stations say it’s their busiest weekend of the year, Glover said.
High fuel costs and a slowing economy have also raised hopes that more people will stay close to home and attend the festival this year, Glover said.
Glover doesn’t know how the smoke may affect the crowd’s size, but she remains hopeful the festival will draw many people, she said.
The festival won’t be moved indoors, and there aren’t contingency plans for dealing with dense smoke, Glover said.
Many people have called to see if the festival will proceed, and they have said that they’ll be here if it does go on, Glover said.
No vendors have dropped out, Glover said.
Organizers recommend people with medical problems who might be affected by poor air quality carefully consider whether to show up at the festival.
The chamber also is helping to collect donations for firefighters battling the blaze. Donations may be dropped off in front of the chamber’s offices during the Summer Festival, at the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department’s headquarters on Market Street or at the local office of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources at Washington Square Mall. The chamber’s offices are located on Stewart Parkway near the intersection of South Market and Water streets.