It’s a blast, but don’t blow it
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who … burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” — Jack Kerouac “On the Road”
Oh, our fascination with fireworks.
Keith Moon, mythic drummer for the Who, travelled with a bag of cherry bombs that he used to blow up toilets in the hotels where the band stayed. It became his signature. The band was eventually barred world-wide by every lodging chain, right down to Holiday Inn and Motel 6, alongside the entire city of Flint, Michigan.
The Declaration of Independence was not signed on July 4. Rather, it was signed later in August, but July 4 was the date the document bore so naturally that’s the date, for some inexplicable reason, we blow stuff up. The worst disaster occurred in the Netherlands on May 13, 2000 when a fireworks factory located in a residential area, exploded with a blast equivalent to 14,000 pounds of TNT. It killed 23 people and injured over a thousand, completely destroying 400 homes and 1,500 buildings.
And it’s the day we burn stuff up, too. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks caused 15,600 fires in 2013. Thirty percent of all firework-started fires between 2009 and 2013 happened on July Fourth.
And it’s the day we torch ourselves up as well. Over 8,000 people were rushed to the emergency room with fireworks-related burns, wounds and dismemberments in the month centered by July 4, 2015. And things just get worse. Fireworks-related, inpatient hospital admissions skyrocketed from 29 percent of cases in 2006 to 50 percent in 2012.
Our premier national holiday was cemented into American legacy when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the date of the Declaration. In 1870 it was officially recognized as a national holiday.
Gunpowder, most agree with a few votes for India, was a Chinese discovery and for hundreds of years used to make loud bangs intended to chase away demons, devils and other assorted evils. Arab traders brought gunpowder and fireworks back to Europe sometime around 1000CE. Black powder quickly proved to be a gateway drug to the military, an addiction that hopefully culminated at the end of World War II.
By the 1400s, Italian artisans had added colors and aerial bursts. But the displays were for royalty only; the hoi polloi were not welcome. Plaster saints were created for religious holidays that spewed fireworks from their eyes and mouths. A fire-breathing dragon led Anne Boleyn’s 1533 coronation parade.
The largest fireworks display, according to Guinness records was on Nov. 29, 2014 in Søgne, Norway celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution with a 20 minute display of 540,382 shells.
The longest display I could find was the 1613 wedding of Elizabeth Stuart and Frederick V where guests were forced to endure five hours of incessant booming at a cost of 10 percent of the king’s annual budget.
The shortest display was the 2012 San Diego display when half-a-million folks watched half-a-million bucks’ worth of fireworks fire simultaneously from five Barges sitting in the bay. A computer malfunction cut the event to 20 seconds.
It’s a blast. Google it.
On a side note: I don’t want to dampen anyone’s fun but a complete ban on open burning including domestic fireworks is just common sense, if for no other reason that the heavy winds we’re experiencing almost daily. The ban is set by the commissioners and the sheriff. Call them at (970) 725-3347 and suggest it if you think it’s a good idea, too.
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