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Cities Across The U.S. Face A Spike In Fireworks Use Unrelated To July 4


There appears to be a new routine playing out in cities. As soon as it gets dark, millions of Americans are hearing this.


MCCAMMON: Fireworks - whether a celebration or an annoyance, exploding fireworks are hitting record numbers way ahead of Independence Day. Eli Newman of member station WDET reports.

ELI NEWMAN, BYLINE: July 4 is more than a week away. But in Detroit, Marwan Abukhader is setting up his fireworks shop in a tent on a parking lot. He says this summer, he can't keep fireworks in stock.

MARWAN ABUKHADER: Now I'm asking the dealers just please sell it to me. Whatever your price is, just give it to me. I got customers ask for it.

NEWMAN: Abukhader has a license to sell everything from Roman candles to sparklers. But he says there's a big demand for something loud.

ABUKHADER: Some of them have, like, 16,000 shots and go half an hour nonstop, like a war zone - (imitating fireworks). It's nonstop.

NEWMAN: Cities all across the country are seeing huge jumps in the number of fireworks going off. And that's the case whether fireworks are legal or not. In New York City, where consumer fireworks are prohibited, there have already been more than 11,000 complaints. Officials there are trying to crack down on supply chains fueling the nightly eruptions. Some entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the situation, buying fireworks out of state where it's legal and selling where it's not. In Boston, where firework noise is also surging, police Sgt. Detective John Boyle says, this month, there's been 55 times more calls about illegal fireworks than last June. The noise annoys some residents and terrifies their pets.

JOHN BOYLE: It's impacting many people's quality of lives. In particular, I've had veterans that have served in foreign wars. This also has a major impact on survivors in the community, people that have lost loved ones to gun violence.

NEWMAN: Unfounded theories have been fueled by social media posts. Some speculate that law enforcement is setting off fireworks as a sort of psychological tactic meant to exhaust anti-police brutality demonstrators. Boyle says that's certainly not true.

BOYLE: I can answer to the Boston Police Department. We are not responsible for the increase in fireworks.

NEWMAN: Julie Heckman has another theory. She heads the American Pyrotechnics Association. Heckman says member retailers have seen their sales double and triple starting over Memorial Day weekend and continuing through graduation ceremonies, Juneteenth and Father's Day weekend. Across the country, backyard consumers represent the biggest share of fireworks sales. Julie Heckman says with professional displays canceled due to the pandemic, some people are entertaining themselves by setting off their own fireworks. She says it's happening without any organized marketing campaign.

JULIE HECKMAN: Everybody's been in lockdown mode for the past three months. And you know, there are no sporting events that we can go to. You can't go to the movie theater. There aren't concerts to attend and that people are looking for something to do. And they've decided to turn to consumer fireworks and use them even where they are not legal for use.

NEWMAN: Detroit resident Michael Anthony says he'll be setting off fireworks to pay tribute to his mother-in-law, who recently passed away. He says he normally spends $300 to $400 on fireworks every summer.

MICHAEL ANTHONY: It's about that time of year. Whenever it get hot, that's when you - that's when they start shooting them.

NEWMAN: As the sun sets here, the nightly ritual begins.


NEWMAN: The whoosh and bang of fireworks ring out from every corner of the city. Whether you consider it a nuisance or a celebration, it's unlikely to end anytime soon.

For NPR News, I'm Eli Newman in Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eli Newman (WDET)