With many municipal fireworks shows canceled this July 4 amid the pandemic, consumer fireworks vendors said their sales were up — and so, it turns out, were illegal displays.
Over the holiday weekend, police throughout the Corridor said Monday they saw a huge spike in complaints about illegal fireworks, in some cases doubling or tripling the number of calls from past years.
In Coralville, police Chief Shane Kron said complaints to the department over fireworks quadrupled this Fourth of July weekend, from just 49 complaints in 2019 to 273 complaints this year. The department issued 20 citations, also more than in previous years.
“I would listen to the radio and it was just fireworks complaints non-stop,” Kron said.
The Iowa Legislature in 2017 legalized the sale and use of consumer fireworks in Iowa, but allowed local cities and counties to regulate when or if people could set them off in their jurisdiction around the holiday. Within the city limits of Cedar Rapids and within the county borders of Johnson County, fireworks are not allowed at any time. Marion and Hiawatha allow them for 11 hours on the Fourth and on New Year’s Eve.
Kron said he wasn’t exactly sure what led to more fireworks complaints and citations in Coralville this year — the city went ahead with its municipal display, albeit with social distancing requirements. But accessibility of purchasing fireworks is a big factor in whether people will set them off, he noted. This year, four tents were set up in Coralville to sell fireworks.
One thing he noticed anecdotally was people tending to call in with complaints of louder than usual fireworks.
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“They seemed to be bigger this year,” Kron said. “Everybody that called in talked about huge explosions. These are not people with bottle rockets; this was a lot bigger.”
In Iowa City, the police department didn’t issue any fireworks citations Friday though Sunday but fielded 158 calls complaining about fireworks — nearly double last year’s 80 calls during the same period. Public Information Officer Derek Frank said officers did issue warnings, but were busy handling other calls for service and couldn’t get to all the complaints.
The Cedar Rapids Police Department, which kept records over a monthlong period, also saw more fireworks complaints compared with last year, said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow. Fireworks complaints in the city jumped 84.3 percent when comparing June 1-July 6 this year to June 1-July 8, 2019, according to department data. Officers issued 38 citations for fireworks according to city data, 10 more than last year.
A few more fires were reported this year, too, in Cedar Rapids, Buelow said, though fewer than in 2017.
Four fireworks-related fires were reported to the department between June 29 and July 4. All four were fires contained to trash bins and garbage cans. In 2018, the department responded to two fireworks-related fires around the Fourth, but in 2017, the city had 13 such fire incidents and 21 reported injuries.
In Cedar Rapids this holiday, three people were taken to the hospital with fireworks injuries, Buelow said.
The cause of another Cedar Rapids house fire is under investigation.
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