Fireworks Petworth, DC Style!

Let the debate begin. You know what I’m talking about. What a display! This has been one of the wildest performances I have ever seen in Petworth. I feel bad for all the people who treked down to the Mall, only to be evacuated, then having to fight the traffic when they could’ve just come to Petworth! The video below is only a fraction of the visuals. It should give you a good taste though. So what do you think – Awesome? or Next year I’m getting the hell out of dodge?

49 Comment

  • I appreciate the sense of celebration, but this is illegal activity that could threaten peoples lives. I’ve been harrased all weekend by illegal fireworks fired by the local animal brats. When I asked them to knock it off they promptly fired one at me. I’ve lived in the city a month and not sure I want another round of this disrespect.

    Gentrification fan.

  • Totally in agreement with anonymous there. I’m hoping for a total ban on fireworks so the police can confiscate them more easily; until then, I’ll make sure I’m out of town on the 4th from now on. They’re dangerous, inconsiderate of neighbors (particularly those with small kids and pets), and generate god knows how many more tons of trash – just what CH and Petworth need, right?

    And it’s not just the new CH and Petworth residents who hate them. Most of my long-term neighbors do, too, as do the police who have to deal with this crap.

  • I love the fireworks, but am in favor of some regulation. I propose limiting them to a few hours, say 9 to 11 on the 4th and that’s it. I was really impressed with the shows I saw in all directions from my house.

  • My first 4th in Petworth and I must say that the fireworks enthusiasm is pretty incredible. If only residents had that much enthusiasm for beautifying the neighborhood – or rather, just stop littering! – …but I digress.
    However organic the fireworks enthusiasm in Petworth may be, fireworks are dangerous, a noise nuisance (fireworks until 1:30 AM is unacceptable), create garbage, and should be regulated…to a degree. I would love to see the community get together for a local fireworks display, say in a school parking lot, where the entire community could enjoy the show for a specific period of time and the local fire department would be on hand to mitigate any problems. This makes much more sense than the haphazard, dangerous display I saw last night.

  • (First, Gentrification Fan does not speak for me. His words — using the word “animal” — reveal a raw hatred for his neighbors. Perhaps he made the wrong decision to move here.)

    I’ve been through several July 4s here. I like the community spirit this holiday engenders in our neighborhood. And I’m not opposed to folks setting off bottle rockets, etc.

    But this year seemed a bit out of control. Several streets were effectively closed, people were shooting fireworks at odd angles. And let’s be clear: not a single person shooting these powerful fireworks is a professional. (There is a very good reason why every state has elaborate licensing procedures!)

    I would like to leave town next year, but I’m a little afraid not to be home to put out a housefire!

  • I definitely think we need better enforcement of the laws already on the books.

    If residents want to have sparklers, fine. But the bottle rockets and Roman candles and other explosive devices are dangerous. And there really are quite a few kids (some 8 or 9 years old) who are setting them off, many without adult supervision. Until 1 in the morning. This has got to stop.

    I think we should pursue a two-pronged approach. The first should begin before the 4th and should concentrate on the kiosks selling illegal fireworks. We should try to get them not to sell illegal fireworks or, failing that, to get them shut down. Second we should demand enforcement of laws on the books. People who light explosive fireworks or Roman candles should be help accountable.

    I know the police have a lot of work to do, but I shouldn’t have to let my house burn down because some parent thinks it’s OK for their child to set off firecrackers on the sidewalk.

    Of course, some people will be saying that it’s a “tradition” in Petworth for people to set off fireworks. The only answer is: not anymore. I live in a townhouse. The people setting off fireworks are my neighbors. We live in close proximity, which means we all have to get along. The way to do that is by all of us abiding by the same set of rules as codified by DC’s laws. If my neighbors want to live by a less stringent set of laws, they should move to the country where they’re not living two feet from their neighbors and where their actions won’t impact their neighbors as strongly as they do in Petworth.

    The trash, of course, is a separate issue. I’ve already called the police about the littering and I only hope that my neighbors will receive the stiffest fine permissible by DC law. Really; leaving trash on the sidewalk shouldn’t be a part of anyone’s “tradition.” That’s just barbaric.

    Finally, a word about the first Anonymous’s use of “animal brats,” which another anonymous referred to as “raw hatred.” That was not “raw hatred” Raw hatred, as anyone who has seen it knows, uses words that are simply not fit to print and that get people kicked off radio and/or fired from Anthony Williams’ administration. I think it’s permissible to call children who are disrespectful and entitled “brats.” Further, I think it is appropriate to call human beings who act on their spontaneous feelings of anger or malice “animals.” We should draw distinctions between people who temper their emotions and adhere to societal norms and those whose behavior is not governed by their reason and not bound by the mores of their times.

    To set off bottle rockets with the intent to hurt other people is not rational, reasoned, considerate, civilized, or legal. To do so, especially after being asked not to set off the fireworks, shows a sense of entitlement, of “you can’t tell me what to do” that has no place in a densely-populated place like DC. Thus, it is reasonable and accurate to refer to the children who did that as “brats” and “animals.”

    I do understand that there’s a race element at play here. Black people, so long denied humanity even by “enlightened” minds like Thomas Jefferson’s, can be forgiven if they react strongly to their children being called “animals.” Thus, can we agree that there are other adjectives to modify “brats” that are every bit as accurate, but do not rankle the racially sensitive? How about: uncouth, ill-mannered, wild, rude, coarse, impolite, boorish, ignorant, loutish, base, ignoble, contemptible.

    Let’s hope next year is different. I know that I, for one, will be contacting my ANC and the local police station early (like, Memorial Day) to lay the foundations for a very different July 4th. What do you say, PoP; I’ve already put “contact blogs about talking to ANC inre: illegal fireworks” in my outlook calendar for June 1. Will you post about that meeting?


    Fed Up in Petworth

    (to differentiate myself from all other anonymice. You can call me “Fed Up”)

  • we drove on Taylor last night about 9:30 and it was like driving through a war zone. Awesome in the original sense of that word. Driving down Park Place showed every street with fountains, rockets, etc. being lit. We laughed and smiled, but yes, we need some regulation and enforcement, but nothing will happen until someone’s house (or row of houses) goes up.

  • Check out the City Paper’s “Petworth or Baghdad” item with over 5 minutes of audio from last night:

  • I think Steve is right. It will be this way until there is a serious incident involving damage to health or property.

    This is my third Petworth 4th of July and I was surprised to find that I was much less annoyed and freaked out as in the previous two years. In fact I found that I was *somewhat* into the spirit of it all. I enjoyed watching from my front porch and wandering down the block to share the experience with the other neighbors that were out.

    However, as always, I did not enjoy or appreciate the trash and debris littering the street today, the fact that the fireworks went on and on until past midnight, or the feeling that I was at the mercy of anyone who wanted to set off anything anytime over a two week period — that there was no control on any of this.

    To a point, this phenomonon can be a nice organic, community thing. But unfortunately enough people are inconsiderate and irresponsible about it that it doesn’t end up being a nice community thing. It’s actually just selfish behaviour — unchecked.

    I am still baffled by why the city allows the fireworks shacks to sell all kinds of things that are actually illegal to set off in DC. Considering that pretty much everything beyond sparklers is illegal in DC, you wouldn’t think it would be that difficult to enforce these laws, if anyone had a mind to.

    Let’s see what happens after some 9 year old blows off his hand…

    Signed — Mixed feelings about ‘Bagworth’

  • Lighten up Petworthians! Just relax on your deck or porch with a beer and watch the show for a couple of hours. Then head to bed with earplugs, happy that you got to witness such a spectacle. It’s probably more difficult to get your pets to chill, but they’ll get over it.

  • Good lord – do you people see how you sound?

    Look folks, I agree. Out of control fireworks are bad.

    I also disagree – there are many more legal fireworks in DC than simply sparklers.

    And I don’t know where you all live, but in my block and in our alley, I see legal fireworks, set off safely and cleaned up. Here and on several local listservs I have seen calls for a total ban, for arrests, for all kinds of overreaction. I hope the city council is smarter than that. Enforcing the laws we already have would solve all the problems I keep seeing cited (well, except for the people who just hate any and all fireworks. There’s no hope to make them happy.)

    I love pretty things that spark, and fountain, and whistle, and boom.

  • I talked to our councilmember’s chief of constituent services. Bowser is very concerned about the issue and is considering introducing legislation to ban fireworks in D.C. The fire chief–read: the mayor–favors such a ban.

    Call Councilmember Bowswer’s office at 724.8052.
    Yakking on a listserve or a blog won’t change the law.

  • If you anonymous posters want to live in the suburbs with nice controlled fireworks displays then you ought to move there. Personally I am looking forward to setting off a lot of fireworks in on my new street in PW next year.

  • I must admit that I found the pre-fourth nightly practice firecrackering kind of unnerving.

    Yesterday, I came back into town just to catch the Petworth display. It does seem a bit lawless, but that’s the whole point of fireworks, isn’t it? I must admit I chuckled watching the faces of my fellow BWI Supershuttle occupants as our driver manuevered around smoldering canisters in the streets.

    I stayed outside for awhile last night and enjoyed seeing families (kids always appropriately supervised) share in the holiday. This morning, on my walk from the metro I saw significantly LESS trash than I am used to seeing. Bravo!

    I’ll take that over some sanitized mall experience any day.

  • Actually, Oden, if you want to set off fireworks, you should move out to the country. At least there, you’re a danger only to yourself.

    The city is for people who can respect one another’s property in close living quarters. Where are the best fireworks? In New York City and Washington, DC–not Olney or Louden County. The Roman candles set off in the streets don’t hold a candle (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the boom-boom on the mall.

    I’m going to call 724.8052 right now and get all fireworks banned so we can simply stop people from buying them, and have them confiscated more easily next year.

    Thanks, j.con!

    – Fed Up.

  • As my ex-fiance told me when breaking up with me “it is nothing personal”. Let’s take that advice and continue this discussion without taking things personally. Both opinions on the issue of fireworks are valid. But surely there must be some sort of common ground. I think that is what we should aim towards. I would also add that this debate has been going on for at least 5 years. Personally, I think the fireworks are amazing. However, I do agree that it was annoying to hear them past 1 o’clock in the morning on a “school day”. Surely, there can be some sort of compromise.

  • This is one day out of the year people. Relax, enjoy, keep yourself safe…

    I have to agree with previous posters. Move to the suburbs or Upper NW if you want a sanitized experience. Living here comes with the good and the bad. I can’t stand the neighborhood element who wants all the good (lower priced, affordable housing, etc…) and won’t accept any of the “bad”, especially when it is something that is somewhat of a tradition and most likely pre-dated your move to the neighborhood …

    Go pay $1M for a house in Tenley and live in a place where there are plenty of other people who can spend hours at a neighborhood committee meeting debating such important topics as how to keep gum off the sidewalks and whether the acceptable grass height should be 3.4 or 4″…

  • Sounds great, Sarah, until your rowhome (representing your whole life savings) burns down, or you get nailed in the head with a firework someone pointed at you.
    I love fireworks too, there is a great, free show every year a short metro ride away from Petworth. And I do hear myself and my neighbors. Wanting some safety in our neighborhood, does that make a fuddy-duddy party poops? I think not.

  • To follow on what j.con said above: I emailed Jim Graham yesterday morning out of sheer frustration over the lack of enforcement of the rules that are on the books. He replied very quickly and agreed that the fireworks are a serious problem. Mr. Graham also cc’d MPD 3D Commander Larry McCoy, who agreed with both of us that something’s got to change. So those who actually live in Columbia Heights, Graham’s office is definitely worth a call. Your ANC rep is also worth a call – mine (Larry Ray) sounds like he’d support a ban, too.

    For me, it’s clear that it’s just about impossible to enforce the rules as they’re written. That’s why I’m in favor of a total ban.

    I also talked to a couple of MPD officers yesterday, in addition to exchanging several emails with Mr. McCoy, and part of the problem also seems to be that there’s confusion within the MPD over what is actually illegal. Mr. McCoy said that officers could confiscate illegal fireworks, yet the cops who checked on my block didn’t seem to think they could do that (or perhaps they didn’t want the confrontation that would’ve come with trying to confiscate them, who knows?). Another pair of officers I talked to earlier that day seemed to think that only things like cherry bombs were banned and that very large fireworks that were launched into the air were ok (and according to Mr. McCoy, those are not). And then the 311 operators were apparently instructed to ask wehther people were using “fireworks” or “firecrackers,” although that distinction is lost on me and they weren’t really willing/able to explain.

    Fed Up has an extremely valid point, in my opinion. We live in a densely poplulated city and some stuff just isn’t appropriate in those circumstances. It’s something else entirely to use fireworks in the suburbs, with few people, houses, and little traffic nearby. Around here, though, it just doesn’t make sense, and saying “but I like fireworks, they’re pretty!” a hundred thousand times is not going to change that. We all have to make – or should make – concessions as a part of living where we do, but having to put up with something as dangerous as uncontrolled fireworks really shouldn’t have to be among them.

    And it is not just one day out of the year. The 4th may be the worst night, but there have been fireworks going off near my house for weeks now. One night I could accept. Several weeks is a lot harder to tolerate.

    Finally, I really don’t get why the fact that this is a tradition means it should continue unabated. It’s tradition in some cities for people to shoot guns into the air on the 4th or other holidays – should we tolerate or encourage that? (And, by the way, the MPD officers I spoke to said that this is becoming more of a problem in DC these days). Just because something is “tradition” doesn’t make it right.

  • wow-this is an absolutely hilarious set of postings.

    if you you don’t like to be exposed to the local show, move to a gated community where your rantings may one day (if you work hard enough) result in a condo ordinance.

    most of these fireworks are not from any sort of kiosk, but are illegally distributed and sold– just like drugs and guns. your whining to your local councilman will make no difference in actual enforcement. sorry. maybe you’ll feel better after more outraged posts on some blog.

  • I used to live in Mt. Pleasant before it became financially unfeasible to live there anymore.

    It was the same issue as here. People move in for cheap housing in a beautiful neighborhood. Once it hits critical mass, they start trying to force their idea of what is acceptable on the neighborhood. Real estate prices escalate. Entitlement continues to grow.

    Where is Mt. Pleasant now? Extremely expensive housing, marginally “improved” living conditions compared to ten years ago.

    So for those who are as frustrated as I am with the uptight, NIMBY attitude – take solace in the fact that things probably won’t change. You’ll still have your fireworks for years to come. Your house will appreciate in value, and you’ll still smile when the increasing numbers of gentrifiers howl, pout, and stamp their feet at “animal brats”, the bottle bags they have wade through to get to their Honda Elements and Toyota Priuses. Because, after all they now live in an $800,000 house and one shouldn’t have to deal with such unpleasantness in a neighborhood of such a calibur!

  • I love the display; we always have friends over and our hood never disappoints. We’ve even had one land on our back porch — my mantra: don’t get too close, be ready to duck behind something, and have a fire extinguisher handy (a few glasses of wine also helps loosen up about what could happen). I do hope that when I get home today however, the folks who let them off in our community park will be back to clean up the mess…if not, I’ll lend a hand ’cause I definitely enjoyed the show. Last thought for all of us: let’s be glad that these are fireworks and not gunshots…the latter is the real issue.

  • “Fireworks are a serious problem,” “going to burn down my house,” “those children down the street wouldn’t listen to me when I talked to them like they were dogs!”

    GIVE ME A BREAK! You people need to get a life. The chances of your wittle row house catching fire from a mishandled bong or votive candle are approximately 1000 times greater than from fireworks. I’ve never seen such a bunch of spoil-sport babies in my life.

  • Fed up….you simply had to make this a race issue didn’t u? Fed up? Then leave!!!

  • Sorry Anon, I do have a rowhouse, and it does represent my life savings, and I don’t worry about it burning down. Nor have I ever seen people pointing fireworks at each other.

    And ALH, your MPD sources must be new to the city – the guns in the air thing was a HUGE problem in the 80s. Much less now. Maybe it’s on the rise again, but it’s down from where it once was.

    POP, the debate began in about 1999 – the July after the metro opened

  • Why is someone being a “spoil sport baby” when they won’t tolerate illegal, dangerous activity? Am I a spoil sport baby because I don’t like the drug dealing on the corner and call the cops on it? Because I won’t let kids get high on my property in the alley behind my house?

    This is what I understand least. Those of us who oppose fireworks at least have actual reasons why, many of which have been listed above. But those of you who are in favor of them just call names and say nothing more than “because I like them” or “because it’s tradition.” I haven’t seen a decent defense of fireworks yet – is there actually one?

  • Prince: Unfortunately there is little “compromise” with people who feel martyred by their neighbors. They don’t like the fireworks so it has to stop. I don’t think anyone can honestly believe this is a significant hazard to their homes, it’s just an excuse. Deep down a lot of this is simply a control issue. I actually feel sorry for people wound up so tight that it *means* something to them to desire victory over 14 year olds and their roman candles. God forbid something serious ever comes up in their lives. If j.conn gets some sort of personal satisfaction calling politicians for a ego stroking, good for him. The safe money is on the 14 year olds still having a fun 4th next year while he’s muttering under his breath like a lunatic.

  • Well Anon, my defense of fireworks is:
    Many fireworks ARE in fact legal in DC.
    People are overstating the danger and assuming that all fireworks are illegal.

    I see a difference between fireworks and drug dealing, myself. I call the cops on drugs. I cheer for fireworks.

  • Sarah, you are simply encouraging these young ruffians with their fireworks and loud jive music!HURRUMPH! 😉

    Did any of you scrooges happen to notice it was a HOLIDAY yesterday?

    Just curious.

  • After consideration I think the grumpy anti-fireworks crew have a point. I think we need to do away with serious fire hazards in Petworth.

    According to the National Fire Protection Association those pesky Xmas trees cause a un-godly 700 fires a year. They must go, and go now.

    Halloween decorations are more than a little scary with 1100 fires caused per year.

    But even more insidious: I always thought the worst part of y’all’s yankee BBQ was the food. Not so. BBQ grills cause nearly 4,500 fires a year. BAN THEM! ban them before they set fire to the neighborhood!!

    But this makes me want to go up to every flip-flop-wearin’ blondie in the PW and give her a peice of my mind: there were 17,500 fires started by candles in 2004. I am going to ask the city council to confiscate all of the sweet-smelling candles (and potpourri too, you can never be too careful ladies) in every house.

    Fireworks, nationwide cause 1600 fires, a respectable amount no doubt. But I say we need to get those frickin’ candles and BBQ’s before they get us!

    Remember, you are either with us or with the candle-lovin’ terrorists.

  • i’m cool with most of the fireworks. i could live without the really loud dynamite ones, which i’ve never heard before this year…..

    every year though i wonder how many houses/cars/ etc.. in DC actually have burned because of fireworks.

    anyone know?

    to me, fourth of july in DC is freaking spectacular.
    i wish it was quieter the preceding and following days however.

  • Thanks, Oden, for your wonderfully light-hearted way of making your point. . . I was just wondering as I read the various screeds up here how many fires were actually started by fireworks and whether that was a serious hazard.

    Personally, I loved the fireworks last night. Loved the jubilation, the excitement, the sense of a community celebrating together. And I have always been a mite contemptuous of states like Massachusetts and Connecticut where they don’t even let you use sparklers lest someone get hurt.

    That having been said, I understand that there is noise, and potentially some danger, and we should all be aware of that — but I can think of many many worse things than a neighborhood that gets this excited about July 4th. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about Petworth in the –albeit, only — two months I’ve lived here is that there is a real sense of community, one that at its best is cross-cultural. I think a bunch of people celebrating together reflects that wonderfully.

  • Dear Anon: There are 4,500,000 injuries and 42,000 deaths on the roads every year in the USA, but I bet (unless your Ralph Nader) you get in the car pretty regularly. The point of my ealiest comment is that numbers really don’t matter. Taking a shower is statistically 50 times more deadly than fireworks. BBQ’s are 3 times more likely to cause a fire (and 100% more likely to cause heartburn). I think it is disengenuous to hind behind safety when the truth is some of you just don’t like the noise and mayhem. Just be honest.

  • Oden:

    Honestly: all I care about is people burning my house down. And after that, people landing in the emergency room unnecessarily.

    And your argument about cars is false on its face. Perform this cost/benefit analysis: cars get you where you want to go with a modicum of risk. But I need to get to work. I need to buy groceries. Or, if I am like you probably think I am, I need to buy my organic hemp votive holders. But fireworks? You don’t need those. Not for anything. So all of injuries and damage caused by fireworks are unnecessary.

    I think you should just be honest. But I honestly have no idea what your argument rests on. Fireworks are fun? Fine: then go to the mall and enjoy them. That we should be free to blow things up as we want? Fine: the do it far away from where I live. Do it inside your home, where at least I’ll have the warning of your house billowing smoke to call the fire department. The point that people seem to be making is that fireworks are a danger in densely populated areas (which pretty much encompasses all of PW/CH).

    Do you have an honest argument (honest = not one the gun lobby uses to justify the lethality of their products, as they do with cars) as to why anyone should stand for such a needless threat, even a minimal threat, to their property and health?

  • “Honestly Speaking”, nicely done.
    BBQ’s don’t scare the crap out of dogs and children and holiday decorations are just plain pretty and quiet. They don’t make the neighborhood look lawless. Try a new angle Oden.

  • I was all set to hang out on my porch and watch my first show, but I had to drive to Richmond to leave my dog at my parents house for the rest of July because after 3 nights of feeding her sedatives, I felt like a crappy dog mom. I thought they looked great in the vid, I picked up the firework trash on my block when I got home today, and would be completely OK with fireworks if it was ONE NIGHT a year. Maybe even a week. But now even I need sedatives (or maybe the wine isn’t working as well). A whole month of this is overkill, and that in and of itself doesn’t mean I need to get over it and move to Tenleytown. It just means a compromise for bit more peace and quiet.

  • Update to previous message: Happy to report that when I arrived home after work last night, there wasn’t a single piece of firework debris laying around in the park or street…not sure who cleaned it up, but my one issue with it is officially a non-issue.

  • “Honestly Speaking”: your house is nearly 20 times more likely to be burned down by a lightning strike than by a stray bottle rocket. Yet I bet you don’t have a lightning rod on your roof. Get it yet? This FIRE! argument is specious. Further, driving or riding in a car is NOT a necessity at all, especially in DC. Most of the residents in the district do not even own one. If you use a car it’s because it’s more convenient for you than the alternatives and you are willing to take the risks — you aren’t forced to — and that’s fine. And further, it is NOT a “modicum” of risk compared to fireworks injuries, as the average American is in 3.6 auto accidents in their lifetime (and 25% of us will be in an accident in the next 5 years), and the injury rate due to fireworks is minuscule compared that figure. If you people just don’t like the fireworks in PW why can’t you just admit it? You don’t have to have a “reason”. As for a “reason why”, I don’t see you or j.conn calling up the National Parks Service and demanding they cease their much more (statistically speaking) dangerous fireworks on the mall if they can’t come up with a good reason (other than the birth of the nation). They *might* burn down the White House!

    I mean, do you have a “reason” why you need to take the dangerous risk of driving to the store rather than walk or ride the bus like so many other people? Besides the 25% risk of injuring yourself and others in the next 5 years what “reason” do you have for polluting my air? [cough, cough].

    And “anon”: holiday decorations are silent killers! Between Xmas and Halloween there are just as many burned down houses as with fireworks. Also, those deadly BBQ’s take out three times as many houses per year.

    If, as “Honestly Speaking” states he/she is really only concerned about fires then I’m waiting for y’all to demand a candle and BBQ ban… and maybe a prayer to your favorite deity to to try and cut out the 30,000+ house fires caused by lightning.

    The point here is if you don’t like the noise and the behavior just SAY SO. I can respect that, I don’t personally agree, but I can respect it. But coming on strong like this is a serious public safety concern isn’t serious — more damage is done on the beltway every morning than in 100 petworth fireworks shows.

  • Well said Oden. I do, however, think there may be a problem with unsupervised youth lighting off fireworks. I feel like I have read about a number of children getting hurt in this way over the years.

  • I think it’s pretty clear that most people who don’t like the fireworks, don’t like the noise until 2am and have stated that fact quite a bit. No one is dancing around this issue. Oden seems really stuck. The safety factor is just an added plus for why there should me more regulations on the 2 month firework extravaganza in Petworth. If we get more regulations on the safety factor, I’ll take it. If we get them banned because they go on forever all day and night, that’s good too. If they get banned because kids use them to threaten people, YES. If they get banned because the revelers around my house didn’t clean up a single wrapper, explosive cartridge or beer bottle when they were done – give me that reason too. Maybe Oden doesn’t live around the daily fireworks displays. I think he lives on a pretty quite block.

  • Prince: I’m not saying that children don’t get hurt or that children under a certain age should be allowed to have fireworks; or even that being upset about the noise and chaos isn’t a relevant opinion. I’m just pointing out that the London Fire isn’t going to erupt in PW because of a 14 year old and a bottle rocket. People claiming this is a public safety emergency don’t have a leg to stand on statistically, and cars are way more deadly to kiddies than fireworks.

    220 kids under 10 years old were backed over and killed in driveways last year, 2,700 kids under 15 were killed by cars in “auto/pedestrian” accidents, and 30% of all deaths in the 15-24 age bracket are due to auto accidents. While I am unable to find out what proportion of the 4.5MM auto accident injuries per year involve children, it clearly would dwarf the few thousand injuries caused by fireworks. Heck, there are over a half million people injured on bicycles every year, so if you are looking to keep junior safe you’ll have to take his bike away too (and wrap him up in styrofoam).

    Also, if you want to be a Naderesque pedant about it, as I mentioned above, any argument people have about *needing* a automobile in DC is pretty irrational in the face of the numbers. The violent crime rate in DC is approximately 1200 per 100K population (national average is 450 per 100K), the rate of injuries in auto accidents nationwide last year was 11,000 per 100K population. So PW residents are 10 times more likely to get injured in a car wreck than get bopped on the head or shot up. But which problem do people most often lament about: traffic safety or crime?

    I’m not suggesting PW residents should give up there SUV’s which simultaneously kill the environment, fund terrorism, and run down pedestrians, I’m just suggesting some *rational discussion* about very petty neighborhood nuisances like fireworks is in order, and I also note that if you act like an irrational jackass about petty problems it isn’t surprising that kids shoot fireworks at you.

  • OK, this is a long post, but it seeks to answer definitely some specious arguments and (at the end of the post) to put the fine point on why we’re having this debate in the first place: because the stronger argument will either (a) result in a ban on fireworks in DC or (b) prevent the enactment of the ban. Let’s get to it:

    I argue that cars are different than fireworks for three important reasons:

    1. Possession and operation of cars are heavily regulated. You must attain a driver’s license, for which you must be of a certain age (I think it differs from state to state) and before which you take learner’s classes. If that were a prerequisite for using fireworks, I would be much more supportive of their proliferation.

    2. Cars a means to a necessary end. You don’t know where I live, or where I work, or where I shop, or what hospitals I have to visit, nor do I know at which coffee shops your political club meets. So even though “Most of the residents in the district do not even own one” (a claim I call bullshit on, but whatever; the DMV can settle that and I’ve been on hold with them for too long to include that info in this post).

    3. People using cars are insured. If someone drives a car into my house or into my person, they (or their insurance company more likely) will pay for the damages.


    1. anyone, even an eight year old, even a monkey, can set off fireworks. No one needs to take a class in how fireworks are to be handled. No one needs to learn how to deal with a defective explosive. If owning and operating firecrackers were as regulated as owning and operating a motorcycle or passenger car, I’d have fewer problems with it.

    2. Fireworks are NOT means to a necessary end. They make you happy, but so does fire generally, yet we don’t allow people to build fires on sidewalks. You can in a campground or even in public forests, but NOT IN THE CITY. You wanna build a fire right outside your house, move to Louden County.

    3. If my house burns down because little Jonny doesn’t know how to use his Roman Candle, who pays for it? And what happens when you have 40 people setting off fireworks and my house burns? If someone’s car hits my house, I’ve got a pretty good chance of figuring out whose fault it is. But a firecracker? Not so much. If you had to have insurance to set off fireworks (as I’m quite sure the company that is responsible for the display on the Mall and in NYC does) that’s another story.

    Can you counter a single of these arguments? If not, please don’t talk about cars as if that’s a good comparison.

    Next: votive candles. As Americans, we don’t usually regulate what people do in their own home (except for sodomy, of course, in Texas and Virginia for example). You could even light a BBQ in your home. The bag of charcoal says “Don’t light inside, as carbon monoxide will kill you.” So it’s deadly, but not illegal. Because what you do in your home is your own business. So, Oden, if you want to set fireworks off in your own living room, more power to you. But the candle argument, like the car argument, makes no sense.

    Finally, the BBQ. According to the CDC, “In 2005, an estimated 10,800 people were treated in U.S. emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries” (see Further, “An estimated 2,200 reported structure or vehicle fires were started by fireworks in 2004.” (see
    It is true that three times as many fires are started by grills, as FEMA states: “[grills cause] 6,000 fires, over 5 fatalities, more than 170 injuries. . . .” So three times as many fires, but only 1 percent of the injuries. I think that matters. Further, grills are controlled fires, which means that if they spread, it is likely (a) slowly and (b) to the griller’s house first. So it’s not nearly as dangerous to me. Also, we as Americans tend to treat our own property as extensions of our houses, so I wouldn’t complain too loudly about a neighbor grilling in his/her yard. But if they started doing it on the sidewalk? I’d kinda have something to say about that. But this is beside the point. The point is: grills are controlled by their nature (even though they do get out of control, you can’t ban something simply because it ‘could’ get out of control). Fireworks are delightful precisely because they are uncontrolled. Grills thus are in a separate category from fireworks.

    So there you have it. Do you have an actual argument that makes sense?

    This is not an academic debate. I have called Muriel Bowser at 724-8052 (as have many others, it would seem) to have her ban fireworks in DC so that we can simply have the police confiscate any fireworks next year. That’s the action item we’re debating here. Do you have any good arguments as to why we shouldn’t ban fireworks?

    Here are my arguments in favor of a ban:

    1. Fireworks are dangerous to the people who use them most: kids. (again, the CDC: “children 14 years and younger sustained about 45% of injuries related to fireworks”)

    2. Fireworks cause property damage. I don’t care if it’s only one house a year. I don’t care if it’s only my rose bushes. You don’t have a right to blow them up just because you can’t take the effort to walk to the Mall to see fireworks.

    3. And yes, finally, DC residents have proven that they will light fireworks in ways and at times that clearly violate DC’s noise and nuisance laws.

    Can you (a) counter these arguments on their own merits and/or put forward arguments that appeal to higher priorities (like, I don’t know, fireworks help prevent colorectal cancer or something?)

    Waiting anxiously for your reply.

  • I forgot about lightning strikes.

    If kid could bring down lightning, (a) I’m sure they would and (b) I’m sure we’d ban it.

    It’s beyond my control, but, as I mitigate (since we can’t prevent) th damage it causes.

  • Licensing and insuring cars doesn’t make them any less deadly and doesn’t change the fact that fireworks are a mere nuisance to you — but apparently something you are willing to waste your time on. Further, cars are not a necessity in PW, they are a luxury. I have one, you have one, neither of us would die or lose our jobs if we rode the bus. We drive them *in spite* of the dangers and the safer alternatives. Most of us also eat fatty foods, stay up late sometimes, and buy 80 year old rowhouses with dubious plumbing and wiring (wanna guess how many fires get started that way?). Most of us seem to have a sense of humor about these things, others seem wound so tight that their eventual explosion will make the annual PW 4th look like a fizzle. Fireworks make noise and (apparently) make you so mad you waste your Friday afternoon on the phone with DC government. I’d personally rather be hit in the nads with a roman candle than call the DMV.

    I’m concentrating on more important things, like my plans for next years 4th:

  • I hope that you do have that man cannon. It looks like a blast (har har har).

    Say, did you notice that they’re in a field? With no townhouses around?

  • I have two fundamental frustrations with firework season in Petworth. The first is that kids can be continually intrigued and excited by seeing something go boom. There really isn’t anything any of us can do about that, so I’ll just chalk it up to me being grumpy.

    The second is the complete disconnect between the law/law enforcement and the reality of firework season in Petworth. The police need to either come out and say they think the firework anarchy in Petworth is an awesome festive thing, or that big fireworks are illegal and violators of the law will be tracked down and prosecuted. As the situation currently stands, it makes me wonder which other laws the police have chosen to ignore.

    Personally, I really liked the evening of the 4th. I think it’s a fantastic community bonding type of thing and I respected the togetherness it fostered out on the street, whether that was the block party in the 4000 block of Illinois, or any of the other rogue displays throughout the area.

    My dogs, however, think it sucks. And those who needed to go to work the next day no doubt thought it sucked too. Just as there was greater cleanup this year than in the past (according to many), I think next year and beyond needs to have greater structure as well. Lets put a time-limit on the displays and have someone in a position of authority making sure the people setting the fireworks off are grown-ups, not kids. I also think police need to make a really solid effort to limit fireworks/firecrackers to the 4th. It’s excessive otherwise.

    There is a whole lot of good that comes from the Beirut-style 4th in the Petworth. But for the sake of compromise, not to mention safety and respect for our neighbors, there needs to be greater oversight next year and beyond.

  • Why can’t it be that some folks find fireworks annoying and would like to not have to hear them for weeks proceeding and after July 4th? Can’t that be enough? Why does it have to be about gentrification, race, class or insurance premiums…or any other implied struggle with guilt, greed and/or fear? There is a law in DC that forbids most fireworks… I like that law. There are also laws in DC that forbid cellphone use while you are driving…I like that law too, though it doesn’t seem to be enforced very well. I also like the regulation that allows domestic partnerships, very cool. Some of these laws might seem “bad” or foolish to others, but they are the law and as such should be enforced. I don’t mean to suggest that I never break the law, I do (I really find 25 mph hard to maintain on Piney Branch down into the park). But I don’t break the law, get caught and then argue that I like to break this or that law so therefore I should be exempt. If I think a law is particularly wrong or just plain unfair (like the law that exempts DC from having a floor vote in the Congress), I will lobby to have it changed or removed from the statutes. I live in a densely populated city and I am willing to follow the social contract that that entails. Setting off fireworks breaks the law. Setting them off at all hours, for weeks, leaving firework trash everywhere, firing them at people or pets and on other peoples property is a nuisance and breaks the social contract.


  • A few additional points about all this that didn’t seem to be addressed fully:

    The fireworks go on for more than a day. They start days before the 4th, and go on for days after, graned with less intensity, but they go on.

    Regardless of whether the sale of fireworks gets banned in DC, as with handguns, all one has to do is go to MD or VA to get some. In the week leading up to the 4th, MPD took down a bunch of firework stands for selling “illegals”. After that, it’s harder to do street enforcement of people using them because I’m not sure what the charge would be. Probably just a fine. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being dealt with on the individual level for using “illegal” fireworks.

    On the public saftey side:
    Confusion over firecrackers and sounds of gun shots tie up the police by making them chase down every 311/911 call to make sure that they’re not actually gun shots. That of course feeds into police fatigue over having to chase down ghost calls and, God forbid, not responding to a real call for gun shots with the necessary urgency after the 10th time that night showing up and it being firecrackers. Not helping of course is that criminals know this and take advantage of these situations.

    All seriousness aside, unfortunately for all those who seem to want to end fireworks in the city, fireworks/firecrackers are cool for kids. Hell, when I was a kid, any trip through southern states included me begging for the car to stop at a fireworks store to by M80s and bottle rockets. Didn’t just have to be for the 4th, any time was good for firecrackers. I even made a cool bottle rocket launcher out of PVC pipe so that I could aim and light a bottle rocket wick without worrying about wind. I used a lot of fireworks when I was a kid, I lived in Miami, and never even came close to burning down a house.

    More importantly, no one has seemed to ask themselves: “Did I think fireworks were cool when I was a kid? What would I have done if some ‘adult’ told me to stop?” I mean, unless someone lights a fireworks fountain directly under your porch after dousing it with gasoline the fire risk seems pretty minimal from the street.

    It just seems kind of strange that no one has acknowledged that they were once that annoying kid with the fireworks. I personnally don’t find them as fun anymore, but I certainly did when I was a kid, and I’m sure many of you did as well.

    As with any childhood activity, if it’s really dangerous, like shooting bottlerockets at people’s open windows while they drive by, sure, that’s not good, but some good ol’ fashion fireworks in the street. It’s hard for me to say no.

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