Fireworks wars broke out in our neighborhood during the Fourth of July and our house was in the crossfire. To be fair, every house in the neighborhood was under attack. Sure, it was the most fantastic and free-of-cost fireworks display I’d ever seen in my life, but we were surrounded on all sides by burning, falling sparks. Magical, rainbow colored falling sparks, but sparks nonetheless.
“What’s happening?” I asked Nate.
“The entire state of Washington is blowing up,” he replied.
“Who’s going to stop it?”
“No one. It’s legal in unincorporated areas. We live in an unincorporated area.”
“Seriously? Big fireworks like these?”
“Oh, some of these are probably illegal. You’re not supposed to have bottle rockets, for instance.”
“I hear and see bottle rockets going off all over our neighborhood.”
“There’s a number you can call to report illegal fireworks, but take a look outside. Do you think the police will be able to ticket everyone who’s breaking the law in our neighborhood and in the surrounding neighborhoods? I’m pretty sure someone has already called that number. The problem is just too big.”
“I’m so confused,” I whined.
To gain some perspective, I checked Nextdoor.com, the social media site for neighbors. I wanted to see how people nearby were reacting to the fireworks show. In our area, several neighbors from different communities had started threads in which they complained about the fireworks. They had legitimate safety concerns for property and pets. (SeaTac the cat, by the way, did just fine. In fact, he probably fared better than I did.) For every concerned comment, a new one would appear to oppose it. These opposing arguments went something like this:
“Just resign yourself to the fact that this happens every Fourth of July. It won’t stop any time soon.”
“I’m fortunate that my children get to have a fun and free Fourth of July with all the fireworks they want. That’s how my childhood was and I want to preserve that for my children.”
“Just prepare for it.”
I began to think about that final comment. The word “prepare” stuck with me. Could I help my family prepare for these kinds of explosions every year? So, I got to work checking out my options. Apparently, in 2016 lawmakers in our county allowed homeowners to gather petitions to ban fireworks in their neighborhoods. However, no one turned in any petitions. Fireworks are banned in cities within our county, but that doesn’t stop people from setting them off. As I watched the news July 4th and 5th, fireworks house fires and vandalism seemed to be appearing in places where fireworks were already banned.
Could it be true that banning fireworks actually causes more fireworks related incidents? I don’t have any evidence that proves that theory, but that wasn’t my goal at the moment. I wanted to find out how much damage fireworks actually cause. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks in 2013 caused about 15,600 fires in the United States. Roughly 28% of those fires were started on the Fourth of July. In the county where I live, fires from fireworks have displaced at least 15 families since 2005.
The national statistic sounds pretty alarming to me at least. However, the local statistic appears to be a lot smaller. I still don’t take comfort in that seemingly small statistic. I’d really hate for our house to be randomly selected for the fireworks “shooting flames” finale. So, what could we do? To answer that question, I’ve pieced together the following plan:
1) Make sure our homeowner’s insurance policy covers damage from fireworks we did not set. Certainly, those who set off fireworks on their own property should have the proper insurance to cover those who are visiting and who may be unintentionally harmed by fireworks. However, as some insurance policy websites state, if those fireworks are illegal, the neighbor’s home insurance policy might not cover it.
2) Follow wildfire safety tips, provided by the National Fire Protection Association. According to the NFPA, homeowners living in wildfire areas can clear dry leafs and debris from gutters, porches, and decks. It may also be important to prune nearby trees and bushes. Keeping the lawn hydrated can also help. The NFPA additionally suggests removing flammable materials from property; repairing roof tiles/shingles; and covering vents and screens with wire mesh to prevent sparks from entering the house.
3) Report illegal fireworks use, even if it seems redundant or futile. Our county has a separate non-emergency number for such purposes.
4) Invest in a few good fire extinguishers and learn how to use them. In this manner, Nate and I could sit outside, perhaps meet the neighbors who are using “sane and safe” fireworks practices, and put out small fires, if they are containable. (To know when to put out a fire yourself, you can follow the advice on this website by the NFPA.)
5) Help clean up the neighborhood after the fallout. Not only will the neighborhood look better in the morning, but cleaning up could also help prevent fire damage. Some tips for disposing of used and unused fireworks can be found on this press release from the Washington State Patrol.
While it may sound like we handled the day’s events with a sense of humor, the festivities lasted well into the next morning and I was a bit cranky at breakfast.
“Could I rig a speaker to go off at 3 a.m. with the sound of raucous reggaeton music blaring?” I asked Nate.
“I’m sure you could find a way to do that, but please don’t,” he replied.
“Okay—well, next year I’m going to wear my bikini on the front porch and just sit there and drink beer all day.”
“That’s okay with me. I’d like to see that,” Nate said.
“Oh, it won’t be pretty. I won’t even shave. Every man, woman, and child will be traumatized.”
The horrified look on Nate’s face caused me to pause for reflection. The state of Washington had enough problems on the Fourth of July. In our county alone, nearly 650 people call the illegal fireworks hotline each year. The county fire marshal and the sheriff’s office certainly didn’t need an additional 650 calls regarding a possible Sasquatch sighting.
Your Turn: How do you keep loved ones—including pets—safe and happy during the Fourth of July?