Lifestyle

Kitsap goes back to boom: Fans, firefighters gearing up for Fourth of July and the inevitable fires and ER visits.

Tia Baines bags fireworks for Walt Lowry and his 9-year-old son, John, at an East Bremerton fireworks stand. The Lowrys spend $20 a year on fireworks to contribute to a neighborhood celebration. “I prefer a lot of fireworks that have a lot of bang,” John said. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Tia Baines bags fireworks for Walt Lowry and his 9-year-old son, John, at an East Bremerton fireworks stand. The Lowrys spend $20 a year on fireworks to contribute to a neighborhood celebration. “I prefer a lot of fireworks that have a lot of bang,” John said.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

Scraping up loose change and paychecks from his part-time job, 18-year-old Dylan Towle plans on celebrating Independence Day with a bang.

His friend is going to teach him how to make sparkler bombs.

“I wanna buy a buttload of sparklers,” he said, browsing the tables of fireworks at an East Bremerton stand.

He’s looking for Roman Candles or anything else he and his friends can shoot at each other.

Towle, of Seabeck, said the potential danger adds to the excitement.

“You just gotta run for it,” he said of the homemade explosives.

Lighting the fuse

Stands throughout the county opened for business Monday at noon, the first day allowed by county and Bremerton city code. They have to close by 10 p.m. Sunday in the county and 11 p.m. in Bremerton.

An exception is made on Indian reservations, where stands opened May 28 and can continue selling through July 8.

Although the snap, crackle and pop of fireworks have already begun in parts of Central Kitsap and Bremerton, it’s illegal to light them before Sunday, where they can only be used between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.

But from the lights in the sky, and the booms heard around neighborhoods, it’s obvious many are ignoring the law.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s spokesman Scott Wilson said deputies typically field complaints from neighbors about fireworks, both legal and illegal, long before they are allowed.

“We do the best we can to respond,” Wilson said.

The Bremerton Fire Department, which takes complaints about fireworks in the city, has not received calls in the weeks leading up to Independence Day, nor has it responded to those complaints in years past, said Fire Marshal Mike Six. But this year, the fire department will be enforcing fireworks codes for the first time, as time and staffing allow.

Stands on the reservation can sell bottle rockets, firecrackers and sky rockets, which are illegal elsewhere in the county. However, those are the most popular with guys like Bryce Dugger, 16, of Bremerton, who usually doesn’t find anything he likes at non-tribal fireworks stands.

“The best stuff is at the rez,” Dugger said.

Lighting off fireworks, even legal ones, outside of the approved window is a gross misdemeanor.

Making one’s own explosives, no matter the size, is a felony.

Cherry bombs, dynamite, M-80s and M-100s are illegal, even on the reservations, and have been blamed for much of the havoc on the Fourth.

Illegal fireworks caused nearly half of the 200 fireworks-related injuries last year, such as first-degree burns and an amputation, according to a report from the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Because of current staffing restrictions, Wilson said deputies will respond to calls as often as possible and priority will be given when there is an immediate threat to public safety.

“There are too many to handle,” he said.

Anyone driving on the Washington State Ferries should expect dogs to sniff out their fireworks. Legal fireworks are allowed on the ferry but riders should store them where they can easily be inspected, according to a statement from the Washington State Patrol.

An explosion in injuries

Last year saw a spike in injuries and fires reported statewide to the state Fire Marshal’s Office, from 785 in 2008 to 1,236 in 2009, the most in the last five years.

Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue responded to eight fireworks-related fires on July 4, 2009, said a spokeswoman. No injuries were reported from those calls.

Males 15 to 21 years old had the most injuries, the office reported.

Six injuries related to fireworks were reported at Harrison Medical Center last year over the holiday weekend. Five were injuries to the face or hands, and one was due to ashes in the eye, said hospital spokeswoman Darcy Himes.

A booming economy

Cal Baines, Jr. has managed fireworks stands for more than 30 years and each time it’s a gamble. This year, in addition to his wife, Tia, he has hired seven temporary employees to staff the East Bremerton stand.

He worries that should sales flop he will have to pay them out of his own pocket.

“We’re on a prayer,” he said Monday, the opening day for fireworks sales.

Baines, 59, of Port Orchard, is a licensed pyrotechnician and has helped stage shows at the Puyallup Fairgrounds and on barges around Seattle.

He said fireworks sales have stayed fairly consistent and he chalks up the drop in profits in the last 10 years to more competition, not a dipping economy.

“Fireworks, even when times are bad, is entertainment they look forward to,” he said.

Christina Hall, 32, of Belfair, has worked for Baines for the last 16 years selling fireworks. She too said rising unemployment and conservative spending elsewhere hasn’t affected sales under her tent.

“No matter how bad the economy is, people buy a ton of fireworks,” she said.

Pam Rynearson, who works at the family-operated reservation booth at 13th Street and Callow Avenue in Bremerton, said the average person spends between $25 and $100 on fireworks, but some can buy anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000. Since her booth opened Memorial Day weekend her family has sold six of their $1,200 fireworks packages, which are six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. She said the stand made $33,000 last year.

“I’m amazed by how much people spend,” Rynearson said. “When it comes to the Fourth, it doesn’t matter.”

Reporter Lynsi Burton contributed to this report.

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