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Skyrocketing: Cost of Independence Day pyrotechnics going up for many retailers
Jerry Brovold stocks fireworks at Northwest Display Fireworks near Arlee on Thursday. While the economy and factors in China's fireworks industry have caused price increases for some retailers, others haven't seen as much of an increase.
Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

As fireworks retailers across western Montana open their stands this week, it may cost pyromaniacs a few extra bucks to stock up on their favorite explosives.

Northwest Display Fireworks, a wholesale distributor and retail company based in Arlee, increased its prices 10 percent to 20 percent this holiday season for the first time in 15 years. It's the result of a slumping economy and a slew of recent problems affecting China's fireworks industry, said manager Lee Clinkenbeard.

Polson's annual fireworks display is in jeopardy because its supplier is having a hard time getting shipments from China, and Hamilton's main display has already been canceled because of a lack of funds (see accompanying story).

In Missoula, Shane Clouse, part owner of Pink Grizzly Fireworks, is aware of what's happening across the globe but said the small, family-operated business hasn't felt the effects so far.

Other than regular inflationary cost increases, the only fireworks to increase in price at their stand on Russell Street are firecrackers, Clouse said. Other fireworks, like artillery shells, are actually cheaper this year.

A February explosion at one of China's ports blew up 20 warehouses with fireworks that were ready to be shipped. Many of the fireworks destroyed were the bigger ones used in large displays, Clinkenbeard said. Some of the smaller importers were affected as well, he said.

For security reasons leading up to the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government shut down any shipping of dangerous goods beginning in June, including fireworks.

The increased fuel and chemical costs, the falling U.S. dollar and shortages in Chinese labor and paper goods leaves the fireworks industry in fairly shabby shape.

"I was in China last year and you could tell there were going to be some massive changes," Clinkenbeard said. "I still don't know how they make it so cheap."

Local shows, like the fireworks display after the Missoula Osprey baseball game on July 3, are contracted far in advance, general manager Matt Ellis said, so whatever shortage of fireworks there might be won't affect the show.

With the general cost of living going up, Clinkenbeard suspects most customers would be shocked if there wasn't an increase at the fireworks stands, too, he said. In fact, Clinkenbeard is banking on higher revenues this year because the Fourth of July falls on a Friday.

Fireworks sales typically pick up the beginning of next week. On Indian reservations, fireworks stands opened around the third Friday of June. State law allowed the stands to open on county land beginning June 24.

Many flock to Northwest Display's retail site in Arlee because rockets and Roman candles are legal to sell on the reservation. They are not legal within the county limits.

Igniting fireworks is prohibited within the Missoula city limits and on U.S. Forest Service and state-managed lands. They are also prohibited inside county parks. Every year, however, street sweepers are needed to clean up the parking lot along South Avenue near the softball and soccer fields just inside the county line. It costs the county a couple thousand dollars each year to clean up the mess, said Lisa Moisey, the county parks director.

There are 100 parks in Missoula County, making it difficult for law enforcement to patrol all of them. Fireworks are also not allowed on Waterworks Hill, Mount Jumbo or Mount Sentinel.

Law enforcement is already gearing up for the Fourth of July. Drinking and driving is always a problem around the Fourth of July, Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said. Plus, the river's still running "deceptively high and fast," he said.

"It's a part of American history, but if people will be safe and employ some common sense, it's the best we can hope for," he said.

Creating sparkler bombs and modifying fireworks in any way is dangerous and often considered explosive devices by law enforcement.

Bill Colwell, Missoula Rural Fire's assistant chief, recommends people water down their lawns on the Fourth of July to keep sparks from igniting the grass and inform neighbors before setting off fireworks.

Missoula city firefighters are teaming up with city police officers to respond to fireworks-related complaints July 3-5, Assistant Fire Chief Jason Diehl said. The holiday's connection to the weekend may actually mean fewer complaints for city law enforcement.

"It tends to be a little calmer around town because people leave. If it falls in the middle of week, it tends to be more activity than normal," Diehl said.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com

Safety first

Safety tips for igniting fireworks:

- Set off fireworks in open areas.

- Always have an adult present.

- Buy from a reliable dealer.

- Have water on hand, either a bucket or garden hose.

- Light only one at a time.

- Never relight a dud.

- Dispose of fireworks by soaking them in water and throwing them in the trash.

- Don't throw fireworks at anyone.

- Do not carry them in your pocket.

- Wear eye protection.

Source: Missoula Rural Fire Department

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