TAMPA — An almost-alternate universe of energy hides behind the store’s heavily decorated, yet calm façade. Inside, there’s a beeline to the checkout and the shelves are stacked almost to the ceiling with explosives.
The BEEP BEEP of the cash registers blends into an endless stream of noise when the door chimes each time a customer shuffles in and out.
Tampa’s Galaxy Fireworks is hustling to keep up with demand.
“Busy, huh?” a customer said Thursday.
“Yes,” responded the cashier without breaking her attention from moving the line as quickly as she could.
The Fourth of July is different this year. The cancellation of city fireworks displays due to the pandemic, ongoing protests for racial justice, and a bill recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis making fireworks completely legal on three designated holidays — including the Fourth of July — has residents across Tampa Bay buying fireworks at an exceptionally high rate.
The new law allows those 18 and older to buy fireworks and legally set them off on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Independence Day. Since 1941, the sale and use of fireworks had been illegal on all days but for some exceptions, including having a permit from local government, illuminating railroad tracks, or agricultural use, including scaring birds away from crops.
Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, president of Galaxy Fireworks Inc., said fireworks sales at the shop have been up roughly 30 percent over last year. She has been with the company since its founding in 1983.
Many customers say they’ve been forced to find new ways of celebrating since public fireworks displays were canceled across the Tampa Bay area.
“We usually go to the beaches,” said Sasha Church, a 45-year-old Pinellas County resident who was buying fireworks Friday at a Phantom Fireworks tent in St. Petersburg. But this year, instead of spending the day at Treasure Island, she says she spent almost $150 on fireworks to enjoy at home with her family.
“We’re going to make the most of it,” she said.
After loading a few bundles of fireworks into the back of their car at Galaxy Fireworks, Sarah Tanner, 52, and Clyde Tanner, 51, said their usual plan to go watch public fireworks wasn’t even a consideration this year. They figured they might as well grab their own fireworks since their family has a safe place to shoot them off, said Clyde Tanner.
Others said their Fourth of July plans remain the same as they’ve always been with family, food and fireworks at the center of the festivities.
“We shouldn’t let anything stop us!” said John Delgado, a 49-year-old who’s originally from New York. He said this year — more than ever — people should enjoy the holiday because he believes the protesters across the country “want to take all our rights away.” He wants to celebrate his independence before it’s gone, he says.
Tampa Fire Rescue anticipates an increase in the number of fireworks-related injuries and cautions residents to be vigilant about practicing safe habits.
Every year, the fire department sees these injuries around the Fourth of July, “but due to the changes (in the law), we know there’s going to be a lot more people utilizing them,” said Tampa Fire Marshal John Reed. “We do expect there to be an increase in our call volume, an increase to injuries.”
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 (a bucket of water and garden hose are always recommended)
- Light the fireworks with a long lighter (the further away you are, the better)
- 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
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