Romeo Santiago of Bowling Green perused the pyrotechnics on display Tuesday evening at the SkyLite Fireworks tent on Three Springs Road, picking up sparklers and some of those volcano-like fountains.
He bypassed the huge 500-gram fireworks “cakes” with ominous-sounding names like “Death Shell” and “Inferno,” but he gave them a serious look.
“I’m getting these for the kids,” Santiago said of his modest bag of explosives. “I’m definitely going to come back for some of the bigger stuff.”
He’s hardly alone.
In a year when quarantine-weary families are anxious to have some fireworks fun on the Fourth of July and there’s no professional show to be found, the bombs bursting in air may just be coming from your neighbor. Or from your own back yard.
The coronavirus pandemic that has canceled Bowling Green’s Thunderfest along with most public fireworks displays could lead to skyrocketing sales for fireworks dealers like SkyLite and Dirty Kirk’s, which has tents set up along Louisville Road and Scottsville Road.
“We’ve been open for one week now, and our sales are up considerably,” said Amy Burge of SkyLite Fireworks. “This is going to be a year like we’ve never seen.”
“We have had a great start,” said Emily Young, who was working at the Dirty Kirk’s tent in front of Greenwood Baptist Church on Tuesday evening. “The first night we were open we probably quadrupled what we did the whole first week last year.”
Despite an economy that has been thrown into a death spiral by the pandemic, experts are bullish about the outlook for fireworks vendors.
“On the professional (fireworks) side, there have been a lot of cancellations, even in large cities like Boston and Philadelphia,” said Larry Farnsworth, a spokesman for the Kansas City-based National Fireworks Association. “But consumer fireworks are seeing increased sales.
“People have been cooped up. Now they can come out and celebrate. It gives people a sense of normalcy.”
Independence Day falling on a Saturday only contributes to the trend of people wanting to put on their own professional-quality fireworks displays in their neighborhoods.
Chad Perry, who has the Mid-America Distributors fireworks tent next to Bruster’s Ice Cream along Scottsville Road, has seen firsthand the increasing number of people buying fireworks for neighborhood shows.
“With the show cancellations, we’re seeing a trend toward people buying their own fireworks,” Perry said. “The 500-gram cakes are show-quality. A lot of people are buying them early.”
It’s a trend, though, that comes with safety concerns.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 9,000 people were treated for fireworks-related injuries in 2018. And the National Fire Protection Association reports that fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires in 2018.
Such numbers aren’t lost on Marlee Boenig, public information officer for the Bowling Green Fire Department, and she doesn’t want to add to them.
“We’re aware that we’ll probably have more people doing their own shows this year,” Boenig said. “I just hope people will remember all the safety precautions.”
Chief among those precautions is having a water source nearby to douse the fireworks and not allowing anyone under age 18 to handle the pyrotechnics.
But safety isn’t the only concern arising out of the boom in homemade fireworks shows.
With more fireworks comes more late-night neighborhood disturbances, something McCoy Place resident Leiah Drake is familiar with.
“I think people who shoot off fireworks are disrespectful to other people,” Drake said.
She said a family member who served in the military and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gets heart palpitations when fireworks explode nearby.
“I’m all for people having fun,” Drake said, “but I’m really concerned now that more people are buying fireworks. They’re dangerous. I’m really worried about military veterans, the elderly and animals.”
Such concerns are shared by Doug Gorman, owner of Booth Fire and Safety and First District magistrate on Warren Fiscal Court.
Although the period for shooting off fireworks under county rules didn’t start until Saturday, Gorman said on Thursday that the booms had already begun.
“I’m already getting all kinds of calls about fireworks,” Gorman said. “Technically, the period for fireworks is June 27 through July 6, but people aren’t respecting that.”
Gorman pointed out that the county ordinance says that people aren’t supposed to shoot off fireworks within 200 feet of a structure, a rule that’s often violated.
“We want people to celebrate their freedom,” Gorman said, “but we’d also like them to be respectful to their neighbors.”
Gorman said part of being respectful is observing the hours when fireworks are allowed.
The county ordinance says fireworks can be shot off from June 27 through July 6. The hours for every day except July 4 are 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. That is extended to midnight on July 4.
The city of Bowling Green has similar hours, allowing fireworks to be used between the hours of 12 noon and 10 p.m. on June 27 through July 3 and on July 5 and between the hours of noon and 11 p.m. on July 4.
More information about the fireworks hours and safety tips can be found at the city of Bowling Green’s bgky.org website.