IDAHO FALLS — The Melaleuca Freedom Celebration drew the largest crowd in the event’s 25 year history Tuesday night.
Idaho Falls Police Chief Mark McBride said an estimated 170,000 people viewed the fireworks display. Around 110,000 watched from Snake River Landing, where more than 20,000 fireworks were shot off in 31 minutes. McBride said the remaining spectators viewed from nearby locations with crowd size estimates based on the number of vehicles in the area.
“This was our most successful Melaleuca Freedom Celebration by far,” said Tony Lima, Melaleuca director of Public Relations.
The Melaleuca Freedom Celebration moved this year from the Johns Hole boat dock near the Shilo Inn to Snake River Landing. The new fireworks launch pad was 40 times larger than the old site – measuring 300 by 115 feet compared to the previous 50 by 25 feet. The new arrangement allowed for twice the firepower in the fireworks display.
“These were the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen,” said Tommy Johnson, a Utah native visiting family in Idaho Falls. “We came four hours early to get a good spot and within the first two minutes of the show I knew it was worth it. I’ll be back next year.”
Before the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration, tens of thousands attended Riverfest at Snake River Landing. More than 20 vendors sold food and activities such as wagon rides, horseback rides, bounce houses, and archery were offered.
“It’s really hot but this was the best way to spend the fourth of July,” said Pocatello resident Lauren Jackson. “We bought a funnel cake, snow cones and then the kids played in the bounce houses.”
Emergency workers said no major incidents were reported at Riverfest or the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration but crews did extinguish some minor fires in grass along the Snake River caused by the fireworks.
Police were kept busy patrolling traffic around the site as many spectators waited over an hour to exit. Organizers admitted the large crowd caused challenges with traffic flow and they are reviewing ways to make improvements next year.
“We planned for this event and overall things went pretty smoothly,” said Idaho Falls city spokeswoman Kerry Hammon. “This was good preparation for the large crowds that may show up for eclipse weekend next month.”
Organizers of Riverfest and the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration will now meet to decide how to make next year’s events even better.