MANCHESTER, Maine — Mainers may find this July Fourth to be noisier than usual.
This Independence Day will be the first in 63 years in which fireworks are legal in the state, thanks to a law that passed in 2011. The new law puts Maine among the 35 states that allow fireworks, including neighboring New Hampshire.
“Sales are booming,” Scott Boucher, manager at Pyro City in Manchester, Maine, said recently as several customers browsed aisles bulging with alluring, brightly packaged pyrotechnics.
Since March, when customers braved a snowstorm to make it to the store’s opening, roughly 15,600 customers have come through the doors of Pyro City, one of a chain of stores also in four other Maine towns, Boucher said.
“It’s like a kid in a candy store,” Boucher said when asked how customers are reacting to a kind of market they’ve never seen, at least legally. “Their eyes just glaze over.”
The law allowing the sale and use of consumer fireworks took effect Jan. 1, but some of Maine’s towns and cities have decided to stick with the old rule and continued to ban them. Among them are Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, Augusta and Waterville. Scarborough limits their use to hours surrounding July Fourth and New Year’s Day.
In all, three dozen communities have issued restrictions ranging from complete bans to limited hours of use, said state Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas. Still, 10 fireworks stores have popped up across the state.
Maine law does not allow anyone under 21 to buy, sell, possess or use fireworks. Legal fireworks include those certified by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, such as certain firecrackers, morning glories, Roman candles and flaming fountains. They do not include missile-type rockets, helicopters and aerial spinners, sky rockets, bottle rockets or cherry bombs.
As the holiday approaches, the state is urging people who buy them to read safety instructions. They must be set off on the property of the user or of someone who has given permission, said Timothy Fuller, an inspector with the fire marshal’s office. Officials are waiting to see how the public responds to safety exhortations.
“Foremost is to keep them out of the hands of children,” said Thomas.
Injuries do occur, especially around July Fourth, despite efforts to prevent them. Nearly three-fourths of the roughly 8,600 fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. that required emergency room treatment in 2010 occurred from June 18 to July 18, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said.
Young people are more likely to be injured in fireworks accidents, the commission says. Children under 15 accounted last year for about 40 percent of the injuries, and 53 percent of those treated in emergency rooms were younger than 20. The most common injury was burns.
Maine outlawed fireworks after protracted and steamy debates in 1949, after some lawmakers demanded action to end the noisy outbursts and injuries associated with fireworks, especially around Independence Day.
Rep. Frederic Bird of Rockland, asserting during an April 1949 debate that thousands of injuries from fireworks went unreported, said it was time “to correct an intolerable situation that seems to take place in this state every Fourth of July.”
Sen. Frederick Allen of Portland was more pointed in his distress over the racket from such celebrations.
“But we find it impossible to smile indulgently over the prospect of enduring again, this summer, three weeks of such noisy hullabaloo, as were imposed on us last year by gangs of hoodlums roving the streets late at night — and night after night — enjoying their ‘innocent fun’ of blasting every neighborhood’s peace and quiet with cannon crackers and torpedoes,” the senator said.
A lot has changed since then. Fireworks sellers are required to hand out safety brochures to customers, and many, like Pyro City, offer advice.
“We don’t want somebody to get hurt. We want our customers to come back,” said Boucher.
Of course, despite the law that was on Maine’s books for six decades, many Mainers bought fireworks elsewhere. Blasts echoing from lakeside summer camps to suburbs never completely disappeared.
“It’s a great thing to be able to buy them,” Yvon Doyon of Sidney said as he carried an armful of fireworks from the Manchester store. “There’s no sense in sending the money out of state. Keep it in the state.”