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IC, Coralville go ahead with fireworks despite heat wave

BY ELEANOR MARSHALL | JULY 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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While Iowa City and Coralville battled it out for the most explosive finale Wednesday night, other towns in the Midwest were noticeably silent.

Jim Oetken — one of the owners of J&M Fireworks, which designs and sets off more than 1,200 shows across the Midwest — said many towns across the region canceled or postponed planned fireworks display because of fire bans sparked by the extreme heat. He said that much of the rescheduling is concentrated in Missouri, Wisconsin, and southern Illinois.

Iowa City wasn't one of those places.

City Fire Marshal John Grier said several towns in Iowa enacted fire bans, but Iowa City's location, Hubbard Park, met the moisture conditions for safety.

As important as fireworks can be to a community, Grier said, setting off fireworks from home comes with serious threats, especially with the heat's potential of starting fires.

"The state fire marshal has definitely stepped up his campaign this year," he said. "The conditions are less than desirable because it's so dry out."

The National Fire Protection Agency reported that twice as many fires start on the Fourth of July than on the average day, including 15,500 reported on July 4, 2010. According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission, there were 9,600 firework-related injuries — a majority of them burn-related — treated in 2011, up by more than 10 percent over the year before.

Grier said he attributes the injuries to unsupervised young people and irresponsible behavior especially around holidays with parties and alcohol involved.

Despite a national increase in the number of injuries, Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said the number of citations for home fireworks is consistent from year to year. According to city Ordinance 727, violators are fined a minimum of $250 for home fireworks.

Officials from other towns are concerned about city-sponsored fireworks because of the prolonged heat wave.

West Branch Mayor Don Kessler said he is skeptical whether the annual Hoover Hometown Days fireworks display on Aug. 5 and 6 will be ignited this year, because the Parks Department deemed the display unsafe unless the town gets more moisture.

Oetken said fireworks are still burning when they reach the ground, and the fields they land in are dry enough to cause potential fires this year — which is especially dangerous in fields bordering woodland areas. Some cities wet down their fields to keep their displays safe in the absence of rain.

But before beating the heat, West Branch also has to raise the funds for the fireworks. Kessler said he budgets $25,000 for a display — the same as Iowa City's typical cost.

While the town used to raise funds with the Hoover Library Association, this year, the city is running an independent campaign, for which he plans to send out letters this week. He said West Branch and the surrounding community is very supportive.

"They'll happen sometime," he said. "We signed a contract with the fireworks company, so if we can't shoot them off at Hometown Days, we'll shoot them off some other time. Maybe New Year's Eve."

Though fireworks cost a city thousands of dollars to provide to the public for free, Oetken said he doesn't see them getting blasted from the budgets of small towns anytime soon.

"If anything, they're increasing their budgets to keep up with the cost of the displays. Lately, we've been turning people away because we were completely booked by May," he said. "It'd be like canceling Christmas. They're going to find a way to go ahead and have their fireworks by the Fourth of July."


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