As fire season progresses in the West and many states start to feel the burn of thousands of acres of forest going up in smoke, this weekend’s Fourth of July holiday, and subsequent tradition of lighting off fireworks, are anything but a cause for celebration.
It’s a valid fear, as the average Fourth of July sees a huge spike in fire reports: In 2011, fireworks were attributed to 17,800 fires, including 1,200 structural fires and a staggering $32 million in damages. There were also some 12,500 fireworks-related injuries reported between June 20 and July 20 last year.
These looming dangers don’t halt the enthusiasm, of course. That's why some in the Northwest are pushing for an outright emergency ban.
“In Skyway on the Fourth of July, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a holiday celebration and a battlefield,” Washington’s Bill Bowden told The Seattle Times about his neighborhood, a Seattle suburb in unincorporated King County. Bowden’s wife started a change.org petition to lobby for a ban.
All this excitement, and potential destruction, has many other communities racing to push through emergency bans on the over-the-counter explosives as well, with varying degrees of success.
King County, for example, whose neighboring cities, including Seattle, have outright bans, won’t be able to enact any sort of prohibition this year, since the permits and insurance for fireworks resellers are already in place. The Olympic Peninsula is facing similar issues—local officials want a ban following one of the driest months on record, but state law requires they wait at least a year. Rather that making them permanently illegal, however, they’re seeking only the power to put the kibosh on pyrotechnics during emergency situations, such as this year’s extreme dryness.
Down the way in Eugene, Oregon, however, the city council voted unanimously on Wednesday to impose a partial ban, covering a portion of the city in the wake of a massive stadium fire this week. And just a little further east, in Montana, the city of Polson decided in an emergency meeting to ban fireworks within city limits, a move that even fireworks vendors supported.
“Nothing shows your love for your country more by not burning it to the ground,” Tom Garretson of local Black Widow Fireworks told NBC. “I think we all need to think about that this Fourth of July.”
Similarly, drought-strapped California communities are taking a stance against even the usual “safe and sane” fireworks, and local laws have been tweaked to not only punish possession or lighting off illicit flammables, but also to include language allowing those responsible for a police or fire department response to be charged a service fee to cover costs.
California is so dry, and bereft of water resources, that they are canceling even city-hosted displays. Kern County, home to Bakersfield and other municipalities, decided late last month to ban fireworks in county-owned parks.
Even Utah, with its thousands of miles of desert and salt flats, has taken steps to stave off a personal pyrotechnic disaster, with many counties deciding to at least partially ban not only fireworks, but, in South Jordan, even lighters, matches, and flame-based devices.
You heard that right—even matches have been temporarily outlawed in some parts of Utah. Good thing Utah has the lowest number of smokers in the country, eh?
But as the West Coast battens down the hatches, the East Coast is getting ready to light ’em up. Several states started allowing the sale and use of fireworks this year. In Georgia, the ban was lifted just yesterday, and just in time for this most explosive of weekends. And Georgians are responding, with lines reported to be forming outside shops before doors even opened. And in New York, about half of the state’s 61 counties have opted in to a new law that allows non-exploding fireworks, such as sparklers, for the first time since 1909.
Densely populated New York City, of course, still doesn’t allow personal fireworks. But they do shut down a large swath of Manhattan for the epic Macy’s fireworks display on Saturday.
Just remember, no matter where you are, be careful. Just because they’re pretty and exciting doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous.
Also worth noting: You can’t fly with fireworks. Period. As the TSA notes so eloquently via its blog:
“Most fireworks are meant to fly high in the sky, but never via a commercial aircraft. Fireworks are explosive and incendiary, so in an effort to keep the skies safe, the FAA has prohibited fireworks from being transported in both carry-on and checked bags.”