And, for the record, personal-use fireworks require a permit
Spoiler alert: This is a killjoy column if you’re a fireworks fan.
But this story begins, for some context, in Alaska.
Through daily text contact with my sister who lives in Fairbanks, I remain up-to-date on her year-round weather conditions. For all its beauty, the state has the worst climate in the world. It’s understandable to me why only 736,990 people live there, despite it being larger than Texas, California and Montana combined (which together have a population of 70,854,771 people).
Only 1.28 residents per square mile live in Alaska. Compare that with Door County. We’re not exactly bumping elbows here, yet we have 57.3 people per square mile.
Anyway. To summer in Fairbanks is to live in a smoke-filled world. I see the pictures regularly. Occasionally the air clears, but largely, smoke from forest fires blots out the sun. The entire landscape has a post-apocalyptic glow.
There are 159 fires actively burning across Alaska, 19 of those staffed by firefighters, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center. Some fires have been caused by nature, some by humans and some of those of the fireworks-wielding variety.
The state set a record this summer when 1 million acres of land were burned by fires by June 15 – the earliest in decades, and maybe in history.
The dryness and heat are so dire that Alaska’s fire officials suspended the use of fireworks across a large swath of the state heading into the Fourth of July weekend.
Fireworks displays planned by municipalities were still allowed with the proper permits, but the immediate suspension pertained to personal-use fireworks.
Door County is the land of the fireworks display, with multiple communities hosting displays on multiple nights. Fun.
At our house, we seem to get the fallout from Sturgeon Bay, Egg Harbor and Southern Door. That would have been a problem if our golden retriever were still alive. She’d dig holes in the floors of closets if left alone, trying to escape noise that was to her like the equivalent of the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo.
Fireworks freak out pets and domesticated animals, accidentally mutilate or kill animals and humans, and emit chemicals that are dangerous to all. But for all that, who can argue against community fireworks? They are as American as apple pie. For those people and their dogs who don’t like them, they can avoid them, and others can get out of the way.
It’s the hijacking kind that bothers me. You never know when or from what direction those random, personal displays are going to fire off. You can be lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, and suddenly be jolted awake by what sounds like an AK-47 being fired in your front yard. Fun.
Here’s the thing: Personal-use fireworks are illegal in Wisconsin. No person “may possess or use fireworks without a user’s permit from the mayor of the city, president of the village or chairperson of the town in which the possession or use is to occur or from a person designated by the mayor, president or chairperson to issue a user’s permit,” according to state statute.
Some Wisconsin municipalities ban personal-use fireworks. I don’t know how many in Door County do, though it seems highly unlikely. But how many of those people doing those personal fireworks displays have permits?
Over the Fourth of July weekend, the Door County Sheriff’s Office responded to 14 fireworks complaints, according to its daily media reports. Maybe officers issued citations; maybe they didn’t – but they did respond.
Perhaps if more people reported complaints about the personal use of fireworks, more would be done to stop them, or at least prevent the ones being shot off illegally without a permit. I know it’s hard to complain about fireworks – particularly if it’s your neighbors who are using them – without being labeled a killjoy. Well – guilty as charged.