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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Stop the tradition

The Spokesman-Review

Every Fourth of July you can see the proof of this persistent Inland Northwest family tradition: All along the shorelines of lakes like Coeur d’Alene and Priest, on one beachfront after another, pink, gold and green explosions light up the night.

And the seasonal phenomenon isn’t limited to the lakes. It’s replicated in countless backyards and culdesacs – even vacant lots – far away from any shoreline.

For those brief sparkles, families annually risk fire, burns and trauma. This holiday, as with most, the nation’s pediatricians and fire marshals are urging families to seek out public displays instead. And, as usual, Inland Northwest residents are already streaming to the region’s Indian reservation fireworks stands to stock up.

Our love of fireworks stems back to the scene described in the national anthem: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” It carries a nostalgia for similar family based explosions in years past.

But, stacked against the facts, this cultural tradition lacks logic.

First, the fireworks themselves, labeled with names like “March or Die Mine” or “The Quick & The Dead” evoke images of brutal bravado, not family celebration.

Then the numbers add up to a grisly tale. In 2005, 10,800 Americans were treated in hospital emergency rooms for fireworks injuries.

Last year, Washington state experienced $9 million in property losses related to these fires. Schools were hardest hit. Two 14-year-old boys threw fireworks into a trash container and started a fire that damaged Oakview Elementary School in Centralia. Boulevard Park Elementary School in SeaTac was destroyed. And teens lit fireworks that damaged the roof of Ponderosa Elementary School in Spokane Valley.

According to the Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office, every type of firework device caused injuries last year, with bottle rockets leading the list. Explosives most often struck the hands, heads and faces of their victims.

Even if you’re convinced you’re invincible – 65 percent of last year’s fireworks-related fires in Washington were caused by juvenile males, after all – it’s quite likely the damage will hit your wallet. Fines are $300 in Coeur d’Alene, about $500 in the city of Spokane and as much as $1,000 in Spokane County.

Illegal fireworks displays result in pyrotechnics much less dazzling than the professional shows, but considerably more erratic. It’s time to let this feeble family tradition fizzle.

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