Thursday, July 05, 2007

July 4th a blast — literally

The newspapers this morning had several stories about how busy firemen were yesterday extinguishing fires started by fireworks.

It’s not a big surprise. For several days, night and day, fireworks have been blasting off all over the city here.

The air is smoky, and dogs have been barking. While the city had a law banning a lot of fireworks — anything that goes more than 6 feet along the ground or more than a foot in the air — it was obvious that the majority of people ignored that. It appears the majority of the fireworks went beyond those restrictions.

Driving along some streets last night involved taking a few detours: a lot of streets had piles of fireworks lined up in the center of them, and people gathered in streets and front lawns to enjoy the noise, light and adrenalin rush of blowing things up.

The spectators ranged from grandmothers in lawn chairs to young kids excitedly running around while the fireworks blasted. One of the things that stood out was how much this is a family celebration, and an intergenerational event. Instead of trying to fight traffic and crowds at the location of official celebrations, a lot of people gather with friends, relatives and neighbors and enjoy their own traditions.

Of course, such traditions can get a bit pricey. A Portland radio station last week shared the story about how one guy spent his whole $900 paycheck on fireworks. He thought this would impress his wife and friends. His friends, yes. His wife, no. She was especially not impressed when they learned that there are no refunds on fireworks after she marched him back to the place he bought them.

While that might bring a chuckle to people, sadly there are dangers that come with fireworks. The newspapers in Oregon today have a story about a four-year-old who died after getting into a closet that had stored fireworks in anticipation of that family’s celebration of July 4: the child, early in the morning, entered the closet alone and somehow lit the fireworks. According to firefighters, the fireworks were still going off when they arrived — too late — to save the child’s life.

And then there are the fires. Firemen talked about how many fires they’ve had to put out, especially in such dry, hot conditions here.

I still find it incredible how many fireworks are purchased and blasted here, for a couple of reasons.

When I was growing up on a farm, fireworks were a very rare, precious sight. They were costly, and it would be considered frivolous to spend money on that when it could be used to purchase farm parts or other input costs.

When my grandfather turned 90, I remember we bought sparklers to put on his cake and we still thought that was a bit excessive.

Secondly, we received less than a dozen inches of precipitation per year, and knew how quickly grassfires could spread. It wasn’t easy to round up precious water — or neighbors — to put out a fire quickly when you’re on the prairies and neighbors live far apart. It’s one thing when a combine sets a field on fire during harvest time. Everyone drops everything and rushes out to help. It’s quite another when someone’s kid set the pasture on fire with fireworks. People still put out the fire, but there will be a lot of grumbling about irresponsibility.

So instead we appreciated the rare times we did see fireworks: those rare times when we traveled 45 to 90 miles to the nearest cities for some special occasion and saw fireworks at the end of the day.

To us, that was a bigger blast than the week of fireworks that has been shooting off here every night.

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