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Show traffic real test of patience

As anybody who went to the Pyrotechnics Guild International Show on Saturday knows, if the rain doesn't get you, the wait surely will. Leaving the Red River Fairgrounds after the event's grand finale -- for most spectators an hour-long pr...

As anybody who went to the Pyrotechnics Guild International Show on Saturday knows, if the rain doesn't get you, the wait surely will.

Leaving the Red River Fairgrounds after the event's grand finale -- for most spectators an hour-long process of shuffling shoes and idling engines -- has become a test of patience for many.

Others consider it a safety issue.

Shelley Werner, who drove four hours from Winnipeg with her husband and two children, said she saw a complete lack of crowd control by officials after Friday's show, which was cut short because of rain.

"(The spectators) were all crushed into one exit," Werner said. "I've never seen anything like it."

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About 18 people, including Cass County Sheriff's deputies, West Fargo police officers and Fargo-Moorhead EVAC workers, helped direct traffic, said Cass County Chief Deputy Jim Thoreson, who oversaw the operation.

Vehicles were forced out of the lots on right hand turns to make things run as orderly as possible, Thoreson said. Beyond that, he said, the size of the crowd limited his options.

"The roads can only handle so much," Thoreson said. "I don't know that there's anything else we can do."

Thoreson, who also directed crowd control at the 2000 Pyrotechnics show, times how long it takes to get everybody out of the fairgrounds after the event's last, and biggest, shows. Friday's evacuation took one hour and 25 minutes, compared with one hour and 10 minutes in 2000.

At the weekday shows, all the spectators were out and on the road in 20 minutes, Thoreson said.

The wait after the grand finale is so bad because of the thousands of people who watch the show off the fairgrounds and immediately jam the roads afterward, Thoreson said.

"When you try to get rid of 30,000 people, it's going to take a while," he said.

Red River Valley Fair Manager Bruce Olson said more law enforcement officers were on duty Saturday night to reduce congestion.

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Fortunately the crowd was well-behaved and didn't panic, Werner said, so the thronging push to leave never turned into a stampede.

On Saturday the Werners sat in their Fargo hotel room, thinking up ways to make their next Red River Fairground exit run smoother than their last one. Their top priority was to park near an exit.

"We'll be going back tonight," Shelley Werner said. "I don't care if we get trampled."

People who purchased tickets for Friday night's show but were unable to attend Saturday can get reimbursed, Olson said.

Send unused tickets and a letter of explanation to: Red River Valley Fair Association, PO Box 797, West Fargo, 58078.

Readers can reach Forum reporter David Forster at (701) 235-7311

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