You can tell by the panic in my dogs: It’s fireworks season again.
Still, freaked-out pets are one of the less-obnoxious parts about the annual bombardment that, despite the Legislature shortening the window to legally ignite fireworks, still feels like it lasts straight through the month.
Last year, 100 Midvale residents were forced to flee their homes after an errant firework landed in a bush and set an apartment building ablaze.
It was one of 70 fireworks-related calls that firefighters responded to last July 4th. You can probably count on 70 more this year, as flaming projectiles don’t just light up the skies, but dry fields and, unfortunately, people’s homes.
Salt Lake City resident Alan Woodbury was probably fortunate two years ago when a stray rocket landed on the front of his house. He didn’t see the damage until the next morning, but he thinks the flames must have been at least four feet high. He had to replace a section of the siding.
He assumes someone put out the fire. If they hadn’t, or if the rocket had shot over his house and landed in the dry weeds, it could have been a lot worse.
“Holy cow, I could have lost my home,” he said. “People get out there, they get drunk, they’re partying. It’s not a good environment for responsible behavior and I just don’t think fireworks are worth [the risk].”
My colleague Connor Richards recently told the story of Dave Schoeneck, who was visiting family in New York when he got a call from a neighbor in the middle of the night that his Cottonwood Heights home was burning.
He lost two huge pine trees, all of his patio furniture and much of the home’s exterior, plus he had to live in a hotel for nearly two months while the windows and carpet were replaced.
So don’t try to convince Schoeneck that fireworks are worth it.
That’s especially true this year.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the entire state of Utah is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. And more than 60 percent of the state has severe to extreme drought conditions.
On Monday, fire crews were evacuating people in the path of the Dollar Ridge Fire, one of more than a half dozen wildfires burning around the state.
Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as numerous counties and municipalities, have all enacted fireworks restrictions that could draw fines for residents who set them off in restricted areas.
It’s a nice idea, but it won’t work, because the only thing more stupid than launching unpredictable balls of fire into the air in the middle of bone dry conditions is the people who are absolutely guaranteed to ignore the restrictions and do it anyway.
After all: America!
We fought a war against this kind of tyranny, so let’s celebrate Independence Day, right? And if a neighbor loses a home here and there, well, patriots sacrifice a lot.
It’s not just property that is damaged by this bizarre obsession with fireworks. Nationally, 10,000 people a year end up in emergency rooms because of fireworks-related injuries, according to the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. Most of them involve children and thousands are eye injuries.
And then there’s the smoke. Last year, after the Fourth, the air pollution in Weber County was 20 times above the accepted standards. The air pollution in Davis, Utah and Cache counties also spiked.
If that is not enough, consider the veterans, those who wore this country’s uniform in combat and are still dealing with the scars. I have a friend who served in an artillery unit overseas and the concussions and explosions of the fireworks can transport him back to those war zones. It can be terrifying.
Bottom line: If you have to watch fireworks this week (for whatever reason) find a professional production somewhere. Better yet, have another hot dog and a root beer and donate the money you save by not buying fireworks to a veterans organization advocating for the people who defended our nation — like the Wounded Warrior Project.
Alan Woodbury and Dave Schoeneck would thank you. I would thank you. And my dogs, if they could, would thank you, too.