OURAY – Out-of-towners may cringe at the idea of fire hose water fights during Ouray’s Fourth of July celebration, but it’s a long-standing tradition that’s a lot tamer than it used to be.
During the water fights, which go back to the rough-and-tumble mining days of more than a century ago, stalwart men (and now women) gird themselves with protective gear and face each other with fire hoses, releasing streams of water under more than 100 pounds of pressure.
According to Fire Chief Adam Kunz, for the senior men’s fights, Chris Scott and Jude Martinez of Ouray will face an out-of-town team, pounding each other with 155 pounds of water pressure compared to 125 pounds of water pressure used in the other water fight divisions.
In the women’s division, Tammy Shea and Michelle Hanes will go up against Pacie Miller and Mel Rajowski, while Zack Ficco and Ethan Fries will face Stephen Duce and Scottie Fedel in the junior division. The coed competition will see Eva Duce and Kyle Schoenebaum square off against Glenn Boyd and Ruth Stewart.
Dick Zanett, 70, remembers the “old days” of the fights, when there were no tourists to witness the annual spectacle at the Corner of Sixth and Main streets, where miners from Ouray and ranchers from Ridgway would often fight each other.
“We wore women’s bathing caps and had a lot of rocks coming through the hose,” Zanett recalled. “There was no time limit then and no kids, just adult males would fight, and generally, a lot of them would last 45 minutes.”
Today’s water fighters wear face plates and helmets and suit up like road warriors with waterproof outer gear over protective pads. Injuries are rare, unlike when Zannett was a kid.
“There were a lot of injuries; hypothermia, a lot of bruising, eye damage,” he said. “I don’t know of anybody that lost an eye, but some got their eyes knocked loose.”
There’s plenty to do in Ouray on the Fourth before the water fights start at 2 p.m. A huge community breakfast begins at 6 a.m. at the Community Center, hosted by the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team, the all-volunteer group’s major fundraiser of the year.
Matt Hepp, team captain of the rescue group, said the menu will include pancakes, hash browns, sausage, bacon, eggs, cereal, coffee and orange juice, and they’ll keep serving “until the food runs out.”
The non-profit rescue team takes no county taxpayer dollars, said Hepp, noting it is 100 percent volunteer run. Money raised from donations for the breakfast will help with annual operating expenses.
“This puts gas in our trucks so we can get to the trailhead and rescue people,” he said.
Next is the Ourayce 10K Walk/Run starting at 8 a.m. Prior registration is not required – just show up with the $6 entry fee at 7 a.m. to join the race. Proceeds from the race go to KURA-LP radio station, the student-run radio station at Ouray High School.
Don’t miss the Fourth of July parade at 10 a.m. down Main Street, sponsored by the Ouray Volunteer Fire Department, which promises some surprising local originality.
After the parade, and for the rest of the day, the Ouray Historical Museum will sell “Mountain Man” brownies and lemonade while old-fashioned kids’ games will get started at Fellin Park next to the Ouray Hot Springs Pool.
At 11 a.m. the Ouray Elks Lodge will begin serving its mouth-watering barbecue lunch on the south end of Main Street, until 8 p.m., and between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., San Juan Mountain Guides will offer zip-line rides at the Ouray Ice Park just south of town for $10 per ride.
The day will come to and end at dusk, when locals pile in Jeeps for a flare parade from the overlook at the south end of town, followed by the spectacle of July 4 fireworks over town.