Whitefish Lake barge fire causes thousands of dollars in damage


Whitefish Lake barge fire causes thousands of dollars in damage

KALISPELL, Mont. - For the second year in a row, the fireworks barge in the middle of Whitefish Lake went up in flames during the 4th of July fireworks show.

It was not planned, and has some residents calling for changes to be made.

"We were probably one of the closest boats to the barge, and about 6-7 minutes before the finale all of a sudden the barge started on fire again. It started really small and then about 3 minutes after it was like the whole barge was engulfed in flames," said Whitefish resident, Lisa Witzke.

Witzke was there when the barge caught fire last year and says she isn't surprised it happened again.

"It is what it is, you know fireworks, it's all at your own risk," Witzke said.

Big Sky Fireworks is the company that has been doing the fireworks show on Whitefish Lake for the past 4 years.

NBC Montana went down to the scene of the fire today and met Dan Schuler, the pyrotechnician for Big Sky Fireworks. He was one of the people who set up, and set off the 720 fireworks. He says, it is something that just happens.

"When the fireworks go off they have a lift charge that pushes them up into the air and that lift charge has a lot of sparks and when you just can't get any wind to blow them off the barge, they all just land on the barge," Schuler said.

And it was the accumulation of those sparks that caused the fire. But, because this had already happened last year, Schuler and Big Sky Fireworks said they were more prepared.

"We were worried from last year, we did make some steps to try to fix that. We did bring some fire extinguishers," Schuler said.

And they had to use them, extinguishing two smaller fires on the barge before the big one broke out.

But residents around Whitefish Lake think something more needs to be done.

"They might want to make modifications, I guess. I hear building it on a metal barge rather than a wooden one might help the problem," Witzke said.

But that doesn't mean people didn't enjoy the show.

"So the show went up as planned. If you didn't see the barge on fire you wouldn't know there was a problem with the show," said Schuler.

"We had a great time last night," said Witzke.

This barge fire cost the fireworks company thousands of dollars and the barge that belonged to the city of Whitefish is completely destroyed.

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