Local fireworks vendor Mike Klemme has spent the majority of the past three weeks underneath a tent in the sweltering heat selling fireworks.
With 15 years under his belt in the business, Klemme says this has been his worst year, financially speaking. After expecting a profitable year, sales are scarce.
“We are operating in the red,” he said last week of Big Shot Fireworks stand, located on Highway 47 in Washington. “People aren’t buying fireworks because they are scared they will get in trouble.”
While he acknowledges the risk of shooting fireworks in undesirable weather conditions, Klemme said what is needed is more personal responsibility.
“Flicking a lit cigarette is just as likely to start a fire as shooting a firework, but there’s no ban on smoking,” he said. “I think a lot of it is scare tactics put out by the local media and law enforcement.”
Washington Police Chief Ken Hahn said at least 15 calls were responded to for fireworks violations on Independence Day. An annual fireworks display by the American Legion also was canceled for the first time in 40 years. It has been rescheduled for Sept. 2.
Klemme said that a lot of effort and money is invested into each fireworks sales tent.
“We have to have a county merchants license, sales license and state fire safety permit. We are inspected by the fire department and the building department. We have to go through the planning and zoning committee as well,” he said.
“You have the cost of the tent, cost of the merchandise, rent of the space,” he added. “There are a lot of cost incurred to put up a sales tent and I don’t think anyone around here has had a good year profit wise.”
Along with the purchase of fireworks at Big Shot’s was a list of safety tips including tips on safe firework management during dry weather.
“If people would heed safety precautions, there wouldn’t be a need for outlawing fireworks,” Klemme said.
In Union, the plug was pulled on a subdivision Independence Day celebration only hours before it was to take place.
Gary Willingham says his subdivision has held its fireworks display for the past nine years.
“I would say we put around $5,000 into our get together this year. Several members of the community chipped in and we were expecting over 100 viewers,” he said. “We were given a letter revoking our display permit only four or five hours before the show by the fire chief.”
Union Fire Protection District Chief Russell Hamilton said the pulling of permits was strictly a safety precaution. He said three permits, including Willingham’s, were revoked.
“Once the state fire marshal began issuing fire warnings there was discussion among local fire chiefs about what to do about fireworks,” he said. “There was just too much of a risk with triple digit temperatures, low humidity and dry conditions. Those factor into not only starting a fire, but rapid fire spread.”
Willingham said the fireworks were returned to the place of purchase where they will be kept until next year.
“Hopefully we’ll get to use them next year,” he said.
The Union Board of Aldermen banned fireworks less than 48 hours before July 4, citing extreme weather conditions favorable for starting fires.
“We celebrate the Fourth of July for our independence from Great Britain because we were tired of them telling us what to do,” said Klemme. “What is the difference in that and having the board of alderman or fire marshal telling you what to do?”