Fire­works are boom­ing be­fore July 4, but why the ruckus?

Orlando Sentinel - - Wall Street Report - By Brian Ma­honey and David Klep­per

NEW YORK — They are a sym­bol of cel­e­bra­tion, loudly light­ing up the night sky and best known in the U.S. as the ex­plo­sive ex­cla­ma­tion point to Fourth of July fes­tiv­i­ties.

This year, fire­works aren’t be­ing saved for In­de­pen­dence Day.

They’ve become a nightly nui­sance ring­ing out from Con­necti­cut to Cal­i­for­nia, an­ger­ing sleep-de­prived res­i­dents and alarm­ing elected of­fi­cials.

All of them want to know: Why the fas­ci­na­tion with fire­works, and where is ev­ery­body get­ting the goods?

“I had that same ques­tion,” said Julie L. Heck­man, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Py­rotech­nics As­so­ci­a­tion.

The­o­ries range from co­or­di­nated ef­forts to blame those protest­ing po­lice bru­tal­ity to bored peo­ple blow­ing off steam fol­low­ing coro­n­avirus lock­downs. Most states al­low at least some types of con­sumer fire­works, mak­ing them dif­fi­cult to con­tain in cities like New York where they’re banned be­cause peo­ple can drive a cou­ple of hours away to buy them legally.

New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio set up a mul­ti­a­gency task force in hopes of get­ting an­swers, af­ter blasts from Brook­lyn to the Bronx have peo­ple in the city that never sleeps des­per­ate to ac­tu­ally get some.

Made up of po­lice, fire­fight­ers and the Sher­iff’s Bureau of Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion, the task force will con­duct sting op­er­a­tions to try to stop the sales of ex­plo­sives that are prov­ing dan­ger­ous. A 3-year-old girl was in­jured Wed­nes­day while watch­ing fire­works from her apart­ment win­dow.

“This is a real prob­lem. It is not just a qual­ity-of-life prob­lem and a noise prob­lem,” de Bla­sio said.

Many Fourth of July cel­e­bra­tions will be smaller or elim­i­nated en­tirely be­cause of coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions. Yet the busi­ness of fire­works is boom­ing, with some re­tail­ers re­port­ing 200% in­creases from the same time last year, Heck­man said.

Her in­dus­try had high hopes for 2020, with July 4 fall­ing on a Satur­day. Then came the pan­demic and its clo­sures and can­cel­la­tions, leav­ing fire­works re­tail­ers wor­ried they wouldn’t be able to scratch out much of a sales sea­son.

Those fears have gone up in smoke.

“Sales are off the hook right now. We’re see­ing this anom­aly in use,” Heck­man said. “What’s con­cern­ing to us is this us­age in cities where con­sumer fire­works are not le­gal to use.”

Of­fi­cials have the same con­cern.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Mur­phy said there are too many re­ports of fire­works be­ing set off across the state, where they are mostly il­le­gal.

“This is no way to blow off steam,” he told reporters Tues­day in Tren­ton, the cap­i­tal.

New Jersey out­laws py­rotech­nics ex­cept for sparklers and snakes, which pro­duce smoke but don’t ex­plode, though res­i­dents have easy ac­cess to fire­works at shops in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Of­fi­cials in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, say they have re­ceived more com­plaints of il­le­gal fire­works and re­ports of cel­e­bra­tory gun­fire this year than is typ­i­cal be­fore the Fourth of July. At least five fires have been linked to fire­works since late May, of­fi­cials said.

In Den­ver, au­thor­i­ties seized up to 3,000 pounds of il­le­gal fire­works dis­cov­ered dur­ing a traf­fic stop this week.

The­o­ries abound for why fire­works have got­ten so pop­u­lar.

Some spec­u­late on so­cial me­dia that po­lice are ei­ther set­ting them off them­selves or giv­ing them to lo­cal teens in hopes peo­ple blame those protest­ing racist polic­ing. An­other claim says po­lice are just ha­rass­ing com­mu­ni­ties of color.

Py­rotech­nics ex­pert Mike Tock­stein, who has di­rected hun­dreds of pro­fes­sional fire­works shows, thinks there’s an eas­ier ex­pla­na­tion: the up­com­ing hol­i­day and a na­tion filled with young peo­ple fed up with quar­an­tines.

“Fire­works are used across the en­tire coun­try for a full month lead­ing up to the Fourth of July,” he said. “There is a slight uptick, but I don’t think it’s any­thing more than peo­ple are stuck at home and hey, look, fire­works are avail­able.”

JOHN MINCHILLO/AP

Fire­works have become a nightly nui­sance across the coun­try, an­ger­ing res­i­dents and alarm­ing lo­cal of­fi­cials.

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