There are fireworks in Anderson County for Independence Day this evening.
The fireworks are funded by Anderson County with help from private donations from businesses and residents.
Anderson County commissioners debated last month whether to have the fireworks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also debated how much to spend, with potential amounts ranging between $12,000 and $20,000. The goal was to get to a total of about $20,000.
The fireworks show will start at 9:45 p.m. today (Saturday, July 4) at Anderson County High School. The high school campus will be closed to the public.
Anderson County High School is at 130 Maverick Circle in Clinton, close to Exit 122 on Interstate 75. The Anderson County mayor’s office recommended that anyone watching the fireworks from public areas around Exit 122 use social distancing, which generally means staying six feet away from people who don’t live with you.
There are normally fireworks in cities such as Oak Ridge, but those displays have been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, in what could be a one-time event, the county is hosting and helping to fund the display.
In the last of four votes during a June 15 meeting, Anderson County commissioners approved $12,000 for the fireworks. Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank had hoped to raise another $8,000 for the $20,000 show from private donations, but on Friday, she said she has received more than that: $11,750 in contributions. The additional money is to provide larger shells to make the fireworks visible in a larger area.
“The response from the public has been overwhelmingly supportive,” Frank told county commissioners last month.
Some county commissioners who opposed the county funding had concerns about the increases in COVID-19 cases across the nation and state, and even in the county. They worried about attracting people from places far away where fireworks have been canceled, and then possibly having those people gathering close to each other in Anderson County.
But commissioners who supported the funding said people have to get their lives back to as close to normal as possible.
Frank led the effort to have the fireworks in the county after many local governments canceled their displays.
“The cities are really limited as far as space in order to safe distance,” Frank told county commissioners during the June 15 meeting. “There is also a long-standing tradition in the cities of having festivals and bounce houses and food, and all the associated events surrounding a fireworks event.”
There is no festival or food at the Anderson County display this year, and residents can stay in their cars or watch from their homes, Frank said.
Pyro Shows Inc. of LaFollette is providing the show for Anderson County.
During last month’s meeting, Anderson County Commissioner Theresa Scott, who represents an Oak Ridge district, said the number of COVID-19 cases in the county had about doubled in one month from 33 the week of May 11 to 60 the week of June 15 (it’s now over 100). Many other events have been canceled because of COVID-19, including the Anderson County Fair and the Lavender Festival and Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge, Scott said.
“I believe we would be encouraging people to meet in public,” said Scott, who voted against the fireworks funding. It would not be appropriate to have people coming into the county from other cities and counties where fireworks have been canceled, she said.
Commissioner Bob Smallridge, who also represents an Oak Ridge district, had similar concerns, both about activities that tend to bring people close together and the rising COVID-19 case numbers in the nation, state, and county.
“This is an activity, I think, that would tend to bring people together,” said Smallridge, who voted against the funding.
Public health experts and doctors recommend that people keep a distance—generally six feet or more—from people who live outside your home as part of the effort to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
But other commissioners said residents in their districts support the fireworks, and people can choose whether they attend the July 4 display.
The Independence Day celebration is always huge in Rocky Top, said Commissioner Tim Isbel, who made the final motion to approve the $12,000 in fireworks funding.
“We have to try to get back to as normal as possible,” Isbel said.
Commissioner Steve Mead, who represents an Oak Ridge district, said people who want to attend should be allowed to attend.
“I think it’s time to bring back our lives,” Mead said.
Anyone who is ill should stay home, and those who want to wear masks can, Mead said.
Like maintaining a distance, experts say that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of the virus.
Commissioner Catherine Denenberg, who also represents the same Oak Ridge district as Mead, also voted for the funding. She said she has been very diligent and wears a face mask, and she is often one of the few in the county who do. She will not attend the fireworks and would prefer that people did not, but she said she supported the display and those who want to attend.
Voting for the final motion in June for the fireworks display after more than 30 minutes of debate were Denenberg, Isbel, and Mead, and commissioners Josh Anderson, Bob Jameson, Robert McKamey, Rick Meredith, Shain Vowell, Denver Waddell, Tracy Wandell, Jerry White, and Phil Yager.
Voting no were Scott and Smallridge, and commissioners Jerry Creasey and Chuck Fritts.
The mayor’s office said Merle FM 96.7 will be broadcasting live music with the fireworks show, and ACTV, which is available on Comcast Channel 95, is planning a live broadcast of the show.