Don’t blast off fireworks in city limits.
For one thing, it’s illegal unless you’re a business with a permit from the city. But it also can start fires, cause personal injuries and frighten pets.
The week of the Fourth of July, in fact, is the busiest time of year at Missoula Animal Control, attendant Elaine Sehnert said Monday. The number of calls “takes this enormous jump.”
“It’s the time that we get the most crowded, and it’s the time we get the most calls with people finding dogs and losing dogs,” Sehnert said.
With Independence Day around the corner, city and county officials were issuing warnings and doling out advice Monday to prepare for the midweek holiday. They shared information about fire danger, pet safety and even a hot line.
If people want to report illegal fireworks, city officials urged citizens to call the hot line at 258-4850. It’s open through July 5. (Callers should still dial 9-1-1 for emergencies.)
Last year, dispatch received 113 hot line calls for service on July 4 from the city and the county – as opposed to 38 calls the day before and 26 the day after. By July 8, the calls tapered off to just one, according to data provided by the city.
Outcomes for those calls weren’t immediately available, and fire marshal Gordy Hughes said response times vary depending on the volume of calls at the time.
Last year, he said just one person was cited for illegally shooting off fireworks in the city. The city usually tries to use a softer approach with people instead of writing them a $500 ticket right off the bat, Hughes said.
“People are more apt to abide by a little gentle persuasion, and believe it or not, we get a lot of folks who don’t know whether or not they live in the city or the county,” he said.
Many times, calls are hard to resolve, he said. A caller might not know the location of the fireworks shooter, or the activity might be over by the time officers show up.
With the staffing level available on the holiday, the response is “feeble at best,” especially given all the other emergencies taking place on the Fourth of July.
“It’s the best we can do with the resources available to us,” Hughes said.
The Missoula County Fire Protection Association also is encouraging city residents to refrain from illegally discharging fireworks due to increasing fire danger and reduced firefighting resources.
The agency reiterated Monday that discharging fireworks in the city limits, national forests, or any state recreation areas, forests or parks is strictly prohibited.
Association chairman Frank Maradeo said of Missoula, “You’ve got a lot of people packed into one place.” An agency news release referenced the “inevitable” damage to property that would accompany unauthorized fireworks. Injuries are also an issue.
“Sparklers cause the most injuries of all fireworks,” Maradeo said, citing the high burning temperature of magnesium, the key ingredient in sparklers.
But being courteous to neighbors is another concern, as are early-season fires in surrounding states.
Missoula County currently has fewer resources to deal with wildfires, Maradeo said. As fires popped up in Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming and other parts of Montana over the course of June, some resources were dispatched away from the Missoula area.
“The whole state, besides Missoula County, is kind of burning up,” Maradeo said.
He pointed out that this June has seen more dispatched resources than any other in his memory: “This has been a unique month of June.”
To make wildfire sightings simpler over the weekend, permits for burn piles have been suspended until further notice. The possibility for reopening burn permits will be considered on Monday, but as Maradeo said, “I really doubt we will.”
“Campfires are still allowed,” he said.
As for pets, shelter attendant Sehnert offered a couple of pieces of advice. Veterinarians can help with medications that calm pets, but most importantly, Sehnert said people should keep pets indoors and turn on a fan or radio. That way, pets can’t hear the explosions, or the booms are muffled, and they don’t get scared and race into the street.
“Once they get scared, they will do anything they can to get away from the noise – climb over or tear down fences, break through screens or even closed windows, and run without thinking as far and as fast as they can,” Sehnert said in an email with tips for pet owners.
And that’s dangerous for them, she said. If they lose their judgment, they can get entangled in obstacles or fall into objects and hurt themselves.
This time of year, Sehnert said, pet owners also should make sure an ID tag is secured to their pet, and they should put pooches on leashes when they take them outside, especially if a dog is scared of fireworks.
“All animals should always wear ID, but this is the most important time of year to make sure of this,” Sehnert said. “People in Missoula are really good about returning lost pets to their owners if they just know who they are.”