6/25/07 - Some authorities plan to intensify efforts to make sure Rock River Valley residents have safe, happy and legal Fourth of July celebrations.
As Independence Day draws nearer, some Rock River Valley residents have already made their annual trek to Wisconsin, Indiana or Missouri.
There, they can purchase an array of colorful, highflying and often teeth-rattling fireworks — whether it’s a brick of firecrackers, mortars that shoot bursts of sparks into the air or fountains that light up an entire backyard.
They’re all illegal and not sold in Illinois.
“We have a show every year,” said Steven James, 27, of Rockford. He was on his way back home after a trip to the Madison Zoo when he pulled off Interstate 90 to check out the selection at Cornellier Superstore, which advertises, among other things, fireworks and cheese on its awning.
“I like anything that shoots high and explodes,” he said.
James didn’t pick up anything — except for a flier listing all of Cornellier’s products — but others were buying, literally, by the trunkload.
Shopping up north
“This is the last one of these we have,” employee Tyler Nelson, 15, said, placing his hand on an assortment package of fireworks that retails for $600 but was marked down to $499.
In his best estimate, the store had sold 47 of the $600 assortment packs since the beginning of June and an untold amount of smaller fireworks collections and singles.
“Next week is when we get really busy,” he said. “But we sell year-round. We sell a lot for other holidays like Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day ... (and) just for family outings like birthday parties and stuff.”
It was a similar story across the street at Phantom Fireworks.
Assistant Manager Kary Singh said business has been brisk, and he expects next week to be even busier.
“First thing people have to do (to buy fireworks) is prove that they are 18,” Singh said. “We also have them register, and they have to sign a form that says they will abide by the rules in their community when they use them.”
One such rule that is being enforced in Beloit prohibits the sale of bottle rockets and other explosives to people who are going to use them in the city limits.
“We direct the people from Beloit to the ‘safe and sane’ display,” Singh said. “Those are things like sparklers and fountains that are more safe.”
Still, Phantom, Cornellier’s and presumably other Wisconsin fireworks purveyors make a good number of sales to out-of-towners.
“We get people from Illinois, the Chicago-area and other places,” Singh said.
But firefighters and village officials want to remind Rock River Valley residents of the dangers associated with the explosive devices, which injure thousands and kill a half-dozen in the U.S. every year.
While most police and fire departments say they’ll warn people and confiscate illegal items the first time, others are growing less tolerant and will often fine those setting off fireworks.
“Every situation is different,” Rockton Police Chief Steve Dickson said. “If we find somebody who has a full-fledged aerial display or someone who is repeat offender, we will confiscate the items, destroy them and fine the offenders.”
In Rockton, those fines can be as much as $750.
Most local firefighters or police officers have stories about a personal or property disaster caused by careless use of fireworks.
Belvidere Fire Chief Dave Worrell recalls a house set on fire after children playing with sparklers indoors ignited the carpet.
In 2005, three Rockford houses caught fire because of fireworks, Rockford fire investigator Mark Marinaro said.
And last year, 42 people were charged, given a notice to appear in court and fined up to $500. It represented a 600 percent increase over a year earlier, he said, as Rockford intensified its efforts against illegal fireworks, something it plans to do again this year.
“We’ve already had one grass fire that was started by illegal fireworks, and we have confiscated some illegal items from another neighborhood,” Marinaro said. “We’ll be doing spot checks, and this year’s enforcement will probably exceed last year’s.”
In Byron, police Sgt. Jim Wilcox said his department gets calls at all hours as the Fourth approaches.
And the ones that come at 3 a.m. and involve firecrackers under someone’s window are particularly aggravating. Those will immediately draw fines and can lead to an arrest if misconduct or additional safety issues are involved, Wilcox said.
Worrell said his department has seen an increase in recent years in larger displays as people seem to be able to afford more fireworks. Availability remains a key issue.
And when it’s dry, which it can be around the Fourth, the colorful sparks can cause additional problems, he said.
Aside from the traditional sellers, some fireworks purveyors set up tents in parking lots.
“Every year it seems that there are a few that pop up here and there,” said Chief Deputy Dominic Iasparro of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. “I haven’t seen any so far this year. If the past is any indication of the future, we’ll have some coming in the week before” the holiday.
A quick check of Boone and Ogle counties also found no tents set up yet this year. Often, controversy arises over the types of items being sold inside the tents.
When those stands do set up in the sheriff’s jurisdiction, Iasparro said, officers will inspect the merchandise being sold.
“If there’s something being sold that’s illegal, that will lead to arrests and/or confiscation,” Iasparro said.
Staff writer Mike Wiser can be reached at 815-987-1377 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Rob Baxter can be reached at 815-987-1369 or email@example.com.
The District of Columbia and 39 states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri, allow consumer fireworks. Illinois is among five states that allow sparklers and novelties including snake/glow worm pellets, smoke devices, trick noisemakers, and plastic or paper caps. Arizona allows only novelty items; five states ban all consumer fireworks.
What’s legal, what’s not
Illinois allows: Sparklers
Illinois prohibits: Firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, Roman candles and smoke bombs.
Wisconsin allows: Cylinder fountains, cone fountains, sparklers containing no magnesium, chlorate or perchlorate; snakes containing no mercury; and small smoke devices.
Wisconsin prohibits: Firecrackers, wheels, torpedoes, skyrockets, Roman candles, aerial salutes and smoke bombs.
Penalties for violators
Violating the Illinois Fireworks Regulation Act is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,500 and a maximum jail sentence of six months.
What’s legal in Illinois
Sparklers: The hand-held firework burns slowly while emitting colored sparks. The classic sparkler consists of a thin metal or wooden rod about a foot long that has been dipped in a thick batter of pyrotechnic composition that emits sparks when lit.
Smoke bombs produce colored smoke when lit. There are two main varieties: balls, which are hollow, cherry-sized spheres of colored clay filled with a smoke composition; and canisters, cylindrical cardboard tubes that create a thick cloud of smoke.
Snakes and glowworms: These novelty items are pressed pellets of pyrotechnic composition, usually about the size of an aspirin. When lit, they produce a large, snakelike ash. The ash expands in length, twisting and coiling as the pellet burns.
Snaps, party poppers or noisemakers: Also called snappers and poppers. The small pellets are thrown on a hard surface and make a caplike popping sound. These also can be hand-held devices loaded with a cap that produces a small report and propels confetti or crepe streamers into the air.
Cap guns: A plastic or metal toy gun in which a round of shots can be fired. The round is typically a ring of pyrotechnic composition that emits a popping noise when the gun is fired.
What’s not legal
Illinois: Anything not included in the list above, including firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets, bottle rockets and Roman candles.
Sources: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Register Star archives, local fire officials
What you can do
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers these tips for fireworks safety:
Do not allow children to play with fireworks.
Sparklers, considered by many the “safe” firework for children, burn at up to 1,700 degrees and can easily ignite clothing.
Older children should only be permitted to use fireworks under close adult supervision. Do not allow running or horseplay.
Light fireworks outdoors in a clear area, away from houses, dry leaves or grass, and flammable materials.
Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that don’t go off.
Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Douse them with water and throw away.
Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.
Store fireworks in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for special storage directions.
Observe local laws.
Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting.
Don’t experiment with homemade fireworks.