What was supposed to be the “largest fireworks show between Seattle and Billings, Montana,” on Thursday was cut short after it sparked five brush fires near Northern Quest casino.
The Airway Heights Fire Department received notice of the fires at 10:08 p.m., just eight minutes after the show’s scheduled start.
The fire was out “relatively quickly,” said Fire Marshal Nate Whannell.
Andrea Snelling said she chose to attend the Northern Quest show over other fireworks shows in the area because it was advertised as the “best and biggest show in the area.”
“I was so disappointed,” Snelling said Friday. “It was probably the worst Fourth of July we’ve ever had.”
Snelling and her husband drove from Spokane Valley to bring their two young children to the event. They had trouble parking and accessing the event through the single entrance, Snelling said.
“They didn’t turn any of the lights off in the parking garage, so it was really hard to even see the show,” Snelling said.
Her family watched from the parking garage because the main seating area was at capacity, she said. The show started late and then fireworks started but stopped abruptly, just five minutes later, she said.
“Whoever was lighting the fireworks off was lighting them off so low to the ground that something was bound to happen,” Snelling said.
Mandie Dever went to the event with her sister. The two had five kids between them and were not only disappointed by the fireworks but also the lack of kids activities.
The stadium hit capacity early on, so the sisters didn’t want to lose their spots, Dever said. After the fireworks started then quickly stopped, the families were puzzled.
“They didn’t even say anything and we just thought – that is not the finale,” Dever said.
“They told us not to worry and there would be more fireworks,” Dever said, but those fireworks never came.
Then they heard the firetrucks and saw the flames, she said.
Another attendee, Tyler Edwards, said the show had problems from the start.
“They did not turn off any of the bright lights on the stands and around the area,” said Edwards. “I believe they were also trying to play some patriotic music to go with the fireworks, but it didn’t seem synchronized and just a bit odd.”
After the show, Edwards saw the large traffic jam outside so he decided to wait inside the casino for things to clear up. That’s where he learned the show was canceled because of brush fires.
After the fires started, Northern Quest conferred with the incident commander and the show did not go on.
“They made a decision based on the information we provided,” Whannell said. “We did not shut them down.”
Six units were dispatched to the fires, which burned approximately 1 acre.
“The fires were spotty and our team reacted quickly,” Whannell said.
The Spokane Fire Department was on call ahead of the fireworks show and helped contain the fires.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in cooperation with the Fire Marshal, Northern Quest ended the 4th of July fireworks show early,” Kalispel Tribe Community Relations Manager Les Blakley said in a statement Friday morning.
“Northern Quest is in the process of investigating the reports of fire and cannot comment during an active investigation,” Blakley continued. “We take guest and team member safety very seriously.”
The fireworks show at Northern Quest was the first in more than 15 years, according to a news release sent by the casino and resort on June 12.
The show had three launch sites in “close proximity to each other,” the release said.
“The choreography and timing will be what makes this show special,” said Rich Vaughan, who produced the show, in the news release.
Vaughan is from Pyro Spectacular, the company that designed the fireworks show. Vaughan declined to comment about the show on Friday and referred questions to Northern Quest.
Northern Quest officials referred questions to the Kalispel Tribe when reached for comment Friday.
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