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Fireworks are legal on July Fourth now, but manners are still hard to enforce

Though technically a 2020 law only allows explosives on three holidays, enforcement is rare.
In 2019, children watch the fireworks display from the Boom to Bay event in Tampa, the last time the area had big public July 4 displays. Because of COVID-19 most cities across the country canceled fireworks shows in 2020.
In 2019, children watch the fireworks display from the Boom to Bay event in Tampa, the last time the area had big public July 4 displays. Because of COVID-19 most cities across the country canceled fireworks shows in 2020. [ Times (2019) ]
Published Jun. 24

With July Fourth approaching, firework stands are popping up and shouts of “Hey ya’ll, watch this,” are ringing across Tampa Bay.

Mix in last week’s new federal Juneteenth holiday and celebrations are already lighting up the skies in some neighborhoods.

In April 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that allows Florida residents to legally use fireworks, but only for three days out of the year: New Year’s Day, July Fourth and on New Year’s Eve.

That’s a big change from the decades-old precedent that said all fireworks, defined as anything that leaves the ground or explodes, were illegal to sell or set off in Florida. But there are numerous loopholes in the restrictions (such as promising you are only buying them to scare off birds from your crops) that made enforcement laughable even before the governor gave the occasional thumbs up to blow stuff up.

Related: Don't be a bad neighbor: Etiquette rules for noise and fireworks

It is difficult to police manners. Phantom Fireworks, the nation’s leading retailer of consumer fireworks, even sent out a press release this week urging customers to be considerate of their neighbors.

The Galaxy Fireworks tent near Raymond James Stadium on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Tampa.
The Galaxy Fireworks tent near Raymond James Stadium on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

“Communicate with them. Notify your neighbors before shooting your fireworks to allow them to prepare themselves and to enjoy your show,” said William Weimer, vice president of Phantom, in the news release. “We often get too caught up in the excitement and entertainment of fireworks lighting up the sky that we forget the noise and lights may have an adverse effect on some people and animals.”

Local police departments and fire marshals said they focus on encouraging safe behavior and enjoying professional shows, but neighborhood disputes do crop up.

Related: Tampa Bay shoppers face fireworks shortage ahead of July 4

“This time of year we do get noise complaints saying, ‘It’s midnight and they are still setting off fireworks,’“ said Amanda Hunter, spokeswoman for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. “For the most part, we don’t proactively police them. It’s impossible for us to know who is setting off fireworks. But if someone calls and complains we will go out and talk to them and say, ‘Hey, it’s 3 a.m.,’ and ask them to stop.”

The demand for consumer fireworks has more than doubled, from $407 million in revenue in 2000 to $885 million in 2017. Last year, with official July Fourth celebrations canceled in cities across the nation because of COVID-19, the American Pyrotechnics Association said the fireworks industry saw the highest consumer revenue in 20 years, bringing in $1.9 billion.

This year is showing strong sales again, but now the problem could be supply. A shortfall is driven by supply-chain issues and global shipping delays sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic that have tempered the supply of domestic goods and imports.

If you do decide to put on your own show, to reduce the risk of injury, Tampa Fire Rescue recommends the following precautions:

  • Use fireworks on a stable, flat outdoor surface, including concrete and asphalt — avoid grass as it is often uneven.
  • Have a way to extinguish flames if something goes wrong, like a bucket of water or garden hose nearby.
  • Light the fireworks with a long lighter to be as far away from the flame as possible.
  • Cover your eyes with goggles and wear long sleeves.
  • Do not allow children and pets near fireworks.
  • Never try to relight a firework that doesn’t ignite the first time, instead dunk it in a bucket of water.
  • Always dunk fireworks in water after use.