There are myriad ways to celebrate the anniversary of our nation’s independence. Ways that won’t terrify pets and wildlife, disturb sleeping neighbors, traumatize war veterans, cause serious injuries or start a wildfire.
Unfortunately, one of Missoula’s favorite Fourth of July traditions isn’t an option this year. For the first time in more than three decades, Southgate Mall won’t be hosting its annual Independence Day celebration. The company that handles the fireworks for the event had to cancel due to unspecified “changes in the industry,” and the mall wasn’t able to find a professional replacement that wasn’t already booked, although it expects to have a contract in place in time for next year.
The Independence Day extravaganza at the mall has long offered a magnificent fireworks display managed by experts with the experience and knowledge to assure a safe, controlled spectacle that could be enjoyed by anyone in the valley. Thousands of pyrophiles packed the mall’s parking lot each year, and untold numbers more watched from their back yards, neighborhood parks or surrounding hillsides.
It was the perfect solution for those who couldn’t imagine a Fourth of July without fireworks in a city that wisely prohibits most fireworks. The exceptions, spelled out in a city ordinance that took effect in 2014, are the smallest party poppers, snappers and sparklers. While these still require close supervision to ensure they don’t cause injury or start a fire, they’re unlikely to provoke a call to the police.
Nevertheless, every year, city officials and police have gotten an earful from residents complaining about illegal fireworks. This year, with the fireworks display at the mall canceled, local law enforcement and fire departments are planning to devote extra resources to enforcing the fireworks ordinance, and to responding to any fireworks-related accidents.
The Fireworks Report Line is up and running 24 hours a day, and will continue taking called through Tuesday, July 5. The number to call to report a fireworks violation is 258-4850. The penalty for a first offense is a $100 fine plus court costs; a second offense jumps to $300.
You have free articles remaining.
However, rather than adding to the work of our already busy and hardworking emergency responders, let’s all exercise a little common sense and opt for a legal method of celebration this Independence Day. It’s the smart, safe thing to do.
There’s a good reason why fireworks are prohibited on all parks and recreation areas within the county, as well as state fishing access site and U.S. Forest Service lands. Last year, western Montana counties banned fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend due to extreme fire conditions. The lightning-caused Observation Point Fire burning in Ravalli County ought to be reminder enough: we don’t need any additional fires.
Additionally, thousands of people in the United States are seriously injured by fireworks every year, and at least half a dozen people are killed in fireworks-related accidents. Last year, one of them was a 32-year-old Billings man who was struck in the neck by a mortar shell.
Fireworks are best left to the professionals, and we strongly recommend attending a professional event rather than attempt an amateur pyrotechnics show. There are plenty of nearby events from which to choose (see sidebar).
So fly those flags, thank a service member or veteran, or show some civic pride by doing something for your community. Be free, be proud – and be safe.