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Fear Of Fires Fizzles Some July Fourth Fireworks Fun

Jul 4, 2012
Originally published on July 4, 2012 4:59 pm

Freddie Bowers and his dad, Larry, have sold fireworks in LaVergne, Tenn., for a lifetime. But, the sparklers are off limits this year since the region has had the hottest streak in recorded history and several small fires in the area have been blamed on fireworks.

For people in the fireworks business, Christmas usually comes in July. Only this year, three-quarters of the country are experiencing some level of drought and from the Mountain West to the Southeast, cities are temporarily banning fireworks.

Good luck, however, keeping the Bowers — admitted pyros — out of their stash.

"They're not going to ban Christmas," Freddie says. "They're not going to ban Fourth of July."

Larry is prepared to pay a price for the rush of lighting a fuse.

"I do it because it's my Independence Day," he says. "And whether I shoot one firework or 10, I don't want to break that tradition. I'm not going to. They're just going to have to fine me if they catch me."

In many cities where fireworks are already illegal, enforcement is practically nonexistent. Police in Nashville handed out just one citation last year. But now, there's a "no tolerance" policy. Temporary bans are in place in more than a dozen nearby cities, like Murfreesboro. Assistant City Attorney David Ives says it was too late to revoke permits purchased by vendors, so people can still buy fireworks.

"But they cannot use them and actually will not be able to use them until the New Year season," Ives says.

And though it may seem silly to think people are buying fireworks and holding them until Christmas, Ives says city leaders did what they needed to do "to protect the community."

Some municipalities have even postponed public fireworks displays, including Terre Haute, Ind., and several communities near Lansing, Mich. Major cities — such as Louisville and Indianapolis — have pulled the plug on backyard fireworks for this year. That's expected to result in a drop off in sales, which industry-wide approached $1 billion in 2011.

It's putting the pinch on guys like Kent Goolsby, who works on commission and sleeps at his tent to protect the stock. Goolsby has what was a prime location before the local ban.

"Being right here, there's almost no reason for people to come here if you can't shoot 'em," he says.

Back at the Bowers' tent, customers are at a trickle. Some people, such as university student Elsie Bennett, are trying to be good citizens.

"I'm having a little party, so I figure we better just stick with sparklers and fountains and color bombs, and that's about it," she says. "I wish we could do something crazy, but that's about it."

But others don't seem too concerned about getting caught with contraband. Steven McShand says his wife will keep the water hose handy.

"I don't see nothing wrong with letting kids enjoy the things we've passed down with generations," says McShand, who has a young son, Justin. "I always enjoyed popping fireworks with my parents."

Ban or not, McShand says he and Justin will share the magic of lighting that first fuse together.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

July Fourth is usually your big day if you're in the fireworks business. Only, this year, three-quarters of the country is experiencing some level of drought and cities from the Mountain West to the Southeast are temporarily banning fireworks.

That is not stopping everyone though, as Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIZZING)

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: What does this guy do?

FREDDIE BOWERS: Let's find out. I didn't get to see yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

FARMER: Freddie Bowers smiles and stares at the explosions of white overhead. They illuminate the sandy brown grass below. It's easy to see why several small fires in the area have been blamed on fireworks. The region has had the hottest streak in recorded history.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

FARMER: Bowers and his dad, Larry, have sold fireworks in LaVergne, Tennessee, for a lifetime. There's a ban this year, but good luck keeping these admitted pyros out of their stash.

F. BOWERS: They're not going to ban Christmas, ain't going to ban 4th of July.

LARRY BOWERS: I do it because it's my Independence Day. And whether I see one firework or 10, I don't want to break that tradition. I'm not going to. They're just going to have to fine me if they catch me.

FARMER: In many cities where fireworks are already illegal, enforcement is practically non-existent. Police in Nashville handed out just one citation last year. But now, there's a no tolerance policy. Temporary bans are in place in more than a dozen nearby cities, like Murfreesboro. Assistant City Attorney David Ives says it was too late to revoke permits purchased by vendors, so people can still buy fireworks.

DAVID IVES: But they cannot use them and actually will not be able to use them in Murfreesboro until the New Year's season.

FARMER: I mean, doesn't that sound silly to think people would be buying them and holding them until Christmas? You know what people are doing when they're buying them.

IVES: You're accurate. That's very true. But that's what we needed to do, we felt, to protect the community.

FARMER: Some municipalities have even postponed public fireworks displays. They include Terre Haute, Indiana, and several communities near Lansing, Michigan. Major cities like Louisville and Indianapolis have pulled the plug on backyard fireworks for this year. That's expected to result in a drop off in sales, which industry-wide approached a billion dollars in 2011.

It's putting the pinch on guys like Kent Goolsby, who works on commission and sleeps at his tent to protect the stock. Goolsby has what was a prime location before the local ban.

KENT GOOLSBY: Being right here, I mean, there's no - I mean, there's almost no reason for people to come here if you can't shoot them.

Ya'll enjoy these. Be safe with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

FARMER: Back at the Bowers' tent, customers are at a trickle. Some like university student Elsie Bennett are trying to be good citizens.

ELSIE BENNETT: I'm having a little party so I figure, well, I better just stick with sparklers and fountains and color bombs.

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: So I wish we could do something crazy, but that's about it.

(LAUGHTER)

FARMER: But others don't seem too concerned about getting caught with contraband. Steven McShand says his wife will keep the water hose handy.

STEVEN MCSHAND: I don't see nothing wrong with letting kids enjoy the things that we've down for passed down generations. I always enjoyed popping fireworks with my parents.

FARMER: And now McShand has a young son, Justin.

So what are these things, Black Cats? What else you got in there?

JUSTIN MCSHAND: I have some grenades. I got the big one.

FARMER: Ban or not, McShand says they'll share the magic of lighting that first fuse together.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.