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Increase in illegal fireworks linked to COVID-19 event cancellations

Posted at 6:47 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 18:47:17-04

RICHMOND, Va -- The coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of many fireworks displays across Central Virginia, and local emergency officials think that likely lead to an increase in the number of calls for people shooting off fireworks illegally.

Over the holiday weekend, Henrico County said they received more than double the amount of calls for fireworks this year compared to last: 348 in 2020 to 162 calls in 2019. Chesterfield County reported similar results: 240 calls in 2020 compared to 125 firework calls last year. The city of Richmond reported 154 calls for either reports of random gunfire or excessive noise. Richmond does not specifically track calls for fireworks.

In each locality, calls for service could reflect duplicate calls for the same instance and do not always result in police reports by the time personnel respond.

Chesterfield fire officials said their Fire Marshalls did cite two people for illegal possession of fireworks. However, none of the localities contacted by CBS 6 reported serious injuries or major fires related to fireworks over the weekend.

Chesterfield, Henrico, and Richmond all ban fireworks outright. Other localities around Central Virginia allow small ones that generally do not leave the ground or explode. State law prohibits the use of commercial grade fireworks without a permit, although officials said many people buy them in other states and shoot them off on their own.

Lt. Chris Armstrong with the Richmond Fire Department was working on an engine on July 4th. Armstrong said he cannot recall a year like this one in the city.

“As we were responding to calls, coming back from calls, fireworks just going off everywhere,” he said.

Many people disagree with or flat out ignore firework regulations every single year. The bans are in place for safety reasons, Armstrong said, and recalled professionally licensed shows he has worked where fireworks unexpectedly exploded before they were supposed to.

“You have to remember, the grade of the fireworks being used that you can purchase in stores or in stands on the side of the road, they’re not being tested or they could potentially not have the high grade of quality that professionals purchase,” Armstrong said. “If you can’t purchase it in a locality, odds are you shouldn’t be using it there.”

When Dena Crider heard her the loud boom near her Sandston home around 1 a.m. July 4th, she knew it would be a late night because of her hound dog.

“I could hear the fireworks, so I knew what he was barking at, but I was just like, great, now I’m going to be up how long trying to calm this dog down?” Crider said. “Our dog doesn’t like loud noises, and I’m used to that. But when you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing at that hour, there’s no reason.”

Crider said she likes fireworks and does not mind people shooting them off illegally. She said more people need to think about their neighbors when considering timing.

“Dogs that are around and I know that there are veterans who don’t like PTSD. Think about that when you’re shooting off the big, booming fireworks,” Crider said. “Be considerate.”