Our country celebrated its 240th birthday Monday. At least it’s 240 if your count from the Declaration of Independence. And in tens of thousands of communities across the 50 states, there were fireworks.1 Boise is no exception.
Why? It’s noisy, dangerous, terrifies dogs and causes wildfires.
Blame John Adams.
The day before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, Adams envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
So the whole silly, noisy business is pretty much as old as our country.
Today, it’s a billion dollar industry, involving 282 million pounds of fireworks.
In Idaho, discharging all but “safe and sane” fireworks without a permit is illegal. Yet there are dozens of fireworks stands right in downtown Boise where you can purchase M-80s, bottle rockets, mortars and other products that are the antithesis of safe and sane. When you buy, you have to sign an affidavit saying you won’t discharge them in Idaho. Right. Which is how and why a wildfire was ignited at Table Rock, in the Boise foothills, that burned a home, a barn and some 2,500 acres. And why WC had to dodge explosives and pyrotechnics both while taking these photos and on his bicycle ride back home afterwards.2
In 2015, some 12,000 Americans were injured in fireworks accidents. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev used black powder from fireworks to manufacture the improvised explosives that killed 3 civilians and injured an estimated 264 others at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But a billion dollar industry is bound to have its own trade association, in this case the American Pyrotechnics Association, which seeks the liberalization of consumer fireworks regulations. Because, you know, profits.
WC has no objection to the professional shows. They are relatively brief, and can be spectacular. But consumer fireworks are neither. One of WC’s neighbors was setting off explosions – they sounded like artillery shells – way past midnight.
One of WC’s childhood friends, John G., blew two of his fingers on his right hand into pink mist when he ignited an M-80 at the base of the fuse instead of the tip, and the thing exploded in his hand. Sure, danger is part of the excitement of fireworks, but try going through life missing the third and fourth fingers on your dominant hand.
We can have the Founding Fathers’ wishes with commercial and government shows. Consumer fireworks don’t add anything to John Adam’s vision.
- Alaska, north of the Alaska Range, is an exception. On July 4, a scant few weeks after the solstice, the sky doesn’t get dark enough at night – for a given definition of “night” – to really see fireworks. Fairbanksans save up for New Years Eve instead, although then sometimes the matches freeze before you can light ’em off. ↩
- Those challenges included the clown holding the mortar in his hands and pointing the discharging thing at people around him. It’s dangerous to give explosives to Yahoos. ↩