It’s the kind of situation that can keep a fire inspector awake at night. 

The Fourth of July is upon us and some public safety officials worry that a convergence of circumstances could spell mayhem. 

Conditions have been extremely dry all spring and summer and recent rains have done little to abate it.  

Traditional Independence Day fireworks displays have been canceled so many people have taken to planning celebrations on their own. 

The sale of personal fireworks is up dramatically —  200% above normal, by some estimates — which could mean a lot of things sizzling, soaring and exploding in unexpected places. 

There has been civil unrest and much of the population is feeling claustrophobic after a long period of isolation due to fears of COVID-19. 

To top it off, there’s a full moon this weekend and believe what you will, many folks in the emergency services swear that a full moon is a powerful ingredient for mischief.  

Add a lunar eclipse, coming on Sunday, and the convergence of circumstances starts to feel like prophecy. 

“With a full moon, lots of people doing their own this year and still dealing with these unsettled times, I expect a busy night,” Lewiston Fire Inspector Paul Ouellette, a 23-year veteran of the department, said.

Call it a veteran’s hunch: Ouellette will be on call for the Fourth of July and he has a gut feeling it’s going to be a lively time, especially with store-bought fireworks in the hands of so many restless folks who may not know how to use them safely. 

“Hoping everyone has a safe and happy holiday,” Ouellette said. “Be responsible and leave the fireworks show to the professionals. Even though we had a substantial amount of rain the last few days, conditions are still dry in some areas.” 

Earlier in the week, Bruce Zoldan, founder and CEO of Phantom Fireworks, told the Portland Press Herald that he had not seen such heavy sales of consumer fireworks in his 50 years in the business.  

The laws pertaining to personal fireworks are murky and often confusing. 

In Lewiston, fireworks are only legal on three particular dates, one of which is the Fourth of July when they’re allowed between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Fireworks are limited to the rural outskirts, in generally the same areas where hunting is permitted.

It’s a rule that is largely ignored, as anyone who lives in or near the downtown can attest — as the Fourth approaches, the pops, sizzles and bangs of fireworks can be heard almost nonstop in all areas of the city. 

For some, it isn’t so much about safety as it is about the aggravations that come with loud, sudden and unexpected blasts from outside their windows. 

Dogs and cats tremble in fear. Babies stir in their cribs and old folks clutch their chests in a panic. It’s that kind of trouble that police are hoping to avoid by cracking down on use of innercity celebrations of the pyrotechnic sort. 

“We will be enforcing fireworks violations and people will be charged if found in violation,” Lewiston police Lt. David St. Pierre said. “This can be a quality of life issue and as such we will enforce. People with pets or livestock, the elderly or even those just trying to rest because they work overnight shifts should not have to be subjected to what they would call noise. Let alone the safety issues involved with lighting off fireworks in a built up, populous area.” 

In Auburn, fireworks are not allowed at all, yet there tends to be a lot of noise around the Fourth in that city, as well. 

The State Fire Marshal’s Office points out that across the United States, there are more fires on the Fourth of July than on any other day of the year. Half of those fires, they say, are caused by fireworks. 

More grim stats: The risk of fireworks injury is more than twice as high for children between the ages of 10-14 as for the general population. Fire officials say that fireworks start 19,000 fires each year and injure 9,000 people. 

As a result of dry conditions, some cities and towns haven’t been issuing burn permits. However, permits don’t apply to backyard fires and barbecue pits and fire officials worry that with more private gatherings this year, that could be another point of trouble. Maine has already seen more than 720 wildfires this year, and they’d like to see that number stay put for a while. 

And while everyone is fretting about fireworks and the potential for fires and injury, Auburn police Chief Jason Moen sent out a reminder about a different potential killer. 

“Please,” he said, “don’t drink and drive.” 

According to one study, by the insurance industry, the Fourth of July comes with a drunken-driving fatality rate 23% higher than on any other holiday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 40% of all vehicle wrecks over the Fourth of July holiday are due to driving under the influence. 

Police and fire officials insist that their focus is on safety, not on needlessly ruining good times for people trying to celebrate Independence Day. 

“With no community-based activities scheduled or planned,” Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said, “our patrols will be out in the communities to monitor activities and take complaints in hopes of ensuring that, if personal fireworks are used, they are managed or used in a safe manner for all.

“We will do what we can,” Samson continued, “to ensure it’s done safely and hope that people respect their neighbors in regards to the time, length, discharge and disposal of what they use.”

Most professional fireworks displays have been canceled this year, but sales of consumer pyrotechnics have been heavier than ever. Portland Press Herald file photo

 

Fire officials are worried about personal fireworks on this year’s Fourth of July. Lewiston Fire Department

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