Why Chattanooga officials don't want you to set off fireworks on July 4 (with video)

Why Chattanooga officials don't want you to set off fireworks on July 4 (with video)

July 3rd, 2012 by Adam Poulisse in News

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, left, is joined by Fire Chief Randy Parker and Fire Marshall James Whitmire, right, on Monday as he urges city residents not to use fireworks during the Fourth of July holiday due to extremely dry conditions.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

POLL: Are you planning on shooting fireworks Wednesday?

This year's local Fourth of July festivities may lack much of the "boom, boom, boom" that Katy Perry sings about in her song "Firework."

With the dry, hot weather conditions recently, officials with Chattanooga and the city fire department are imploring residents not to hold their own fireworks displays on the holiday. Instead, they say, take advantage of the professional-grade firework shows that are better monitored and set up around the area.

"We shouldn't have to tell people what dry conditions we're dealing with," Mayor Ron Littlefield said Monday during a quickly organized news conference at the Fire Administration Building. "This is a very unusual year."

The decision to warn people was made quickly because the original plan was to ban and cancel all fireworks because of the weather, Littlefield said.

Signal Mountain's fireworks were canceled as of Monday, and last week, fireworks planned for Regional Park in Athens, Tenn., also were postponed. Last week, a lawnmower caught fire and burned several acres of grass at the park and destroyed about five trees, according to Director of Parks and Recreation Austin Fesmire.

"Every fireworks display we have about two or three small fires, sometimes at the same time," Fesmire said. "If we had that same fire on the Fourth of July, we'd be dealing with trying to evacuate everyone."

Georgia law states that smaller fireworks, such as sparklers or snakes -- the small disc-shaped fireworks that spew out a stream of ash -- are legal. Firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles, sparklers with 100 grams or more of explosives and torpedoes are illegal.

In Chattanooga, officials will be patrolling city neighborhoods to watch for anything that looks hazardous and will intervene if necessary.

"This is not the time to invite disaster hazards in your neighborhood," Littlefield said. "Everyone should keep in mind that if they accidentally burn something down, they can be held responsible for it."

Making matters more difficult, Littlefield said, is the newly created fireworks businesses that opened this weekend in East Ridge. State law bans firework sales in areas with a certain population density, but an exemption was granted to East Ridge, making it the only place in Hamilton County where it's legal to sell fireworks.

FIREWORKS STILL ON

• Chattanooga Lookouts vs. the Tennessee Smokies. 6:15 p.m. tonight. AT&T Field, Chattanooga. Fireworks follow the game. $3-$9.

• Pops on the River. Chattanooga Symphony & Opera performs 8 p.m. tonight, Coolidge Park, Chattanooga. Fireworks after the concert. Free.

• East Tennessee Symphony Orchestra. Collegedale Greenway at Veterans Memorial Park, Collegedale. 8 p.m. tonight. Fireworks after the concert. Free.

• Patriotism at the Post. Barnhardt Circle, Fort Oglethorpe, Tabernacle Big Band concert, 8 p.m. today. Fireworks at dark. Free.

• Soddy-Daisy. City park on north end of town across from Soddy Lake. Wednesday. Fireworks show at 9:45 p.m. Free.

FOURTH FIREWORKS CANCELED

• Signal Mountain

• Athens, Tenn.

One company, TNT Fireworks at 482 McBrien Road, has seen standard business in the two days since it opened, according to manager Nathan Blackwell. The midnight opening Sunday saw about 350 firework enthusiasts eager to buy their own fireworks, he said, and the shop is open 24 hours through the holiday.

Blackwell said he couldn't comment on the irony of selling fireworks in a county that bans them, but he had advice for those disregarding the pleas of community officials and the legal system.

"It's mostly common-sense stuff," he said. "Every piece that we sell has directions on how to do it correctly. Always follow the directions on the box.

"The biggest tip is watch where you shoot them," Blackwell added. "If they go aerial, make sure you know what's above you. And watch the dry grass."

The Chattanooga Fire Department offers no guidelines on firework safety because its position is that the pyrotechnics are better left to professionals who are responsible for setting off the larger crowd-pleasing fireworks in a controlled environment, according to department spokesman Bruce Garner.

Efforts are being made to ensure that tonight's Pops on the River concert and fireworks display in Coolidge Park goes safely, fire officials said. The fireworks will be shot from a barge in the Tennessee River and, if all that water isn't enough of a fire deterrent, the park grounds will be dampened enough to rule out the possibility of fire.

"We can take special precautions and monitor a handful of commercial displays," Fire Marshal Chief James Whitmore said during the news conference. "Commercial fireworks companies are licensed and bonded, so they have a stake in conducting these events as safely as possible."

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