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Fireworks queries clog dispatch centers in run-up to July 4

Joel Page | AP
Joel Page | AP
Fireworks explode Wednesday, July 4, 2012 over a home in Scarborough, Maine. This Independence Day is the first since 1949 that fireworks have been legal in Maine.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The hours leading up to the first Independence Day celebration since Maine’s new fireworks law went into place were relatively quiet, according to rescue dispatchers across Maine.

Though there have been two fireworks-related incidents in recent days, most of July 4 passed with no major incidents. Of course, most of the fireworks-related action was set to begin after dark, though rain and fog rolling in along the coast was set to dampen some of the festivities.

John Gamage, a dispatcher in Knox County, said fireworks in Camden had been postponed until Thursday and that organizers of the celebration in Thomaston were contemplating doing the same because of fog. Festivities in Lewiston and Rumford also were postponed until Thursday, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal. Fireworks in Oxford were postponed, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Despite a lack of serious incidents on Independence Day, police dispatchers across the state said Wednesday that there has been a spike in recent days of people calling to ask about the new law, which went into effect on Jan. 1. In some cases, they called because they wanted to use fireworks legally; in others the callers were reporting concerns about fireworks in their neighborhoods. In many cases, the latter calls required response by an officer, said Gamage.

“We can’t see them from here so we need to make sure,” he said. As for routine complaints, Gamage said he has repeated the same elements of the new law to several callers in recent days. They include:

• The use of consumer fireworks is restricted to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., except on July 4 and December 31 and the weekends surrounding those dates, when fireworks are allowed until 12:30 a.m. the following day.

• Users of consumer fireworks must have a landowner’s permission to use fireworks there, or face a civil fine of between $50 and $500.

• Users of consumer fireworks must be at least 21 years old.

• Fireworks are not permitted in state parks, historic sites and public lands.

An on-duty investigator for the State Fire Marshal’s Office could not be reached late Wednesday evening, though a dispatcher for the Maine Department of Public Safety said there had been no major fireworks-related injuries Wednesday.

On Monday, Gov. Paul LePage and State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas stressed fireworks safety during a visit to a new consumer fireworks store in Scarborough. LePage repeated his long-held rationale for advocating for legalized fireworks in Maine.

“It’s all about the economy,” said LePage to the Bangor Daily News. “There’s a demand, and we want to make sure there’s an adequate supply, that it’s safe, [and] sold to people that are of age within the law. And it creates jobs.”

The new law allows municipalities to enact their own bans on fireworks, which has been done in 36 towns and cities in Maine.

Improper use of fireworks has resulted in serious incidents recently in Portland and Richmond, according to reports in the Bangor Daily News.

On Saturday, a Sabattus man had to have 17 stitches above his right eye after he tried to dry water-drenched fireworks with a torch on Lancaster Road in Richmond. One of the tubes went off and Jason Douglass, 34, was injured.

On Monday, children playing with sparklers in a 22-unit apartment building in Portland caused a fire that displaced residents in seven of the apartments. There were no serious injuries, though one firefighter was taken to a local hospital for evaluation.

And last Friday, a Saco man was arrested for selling fireworks illegally. Gregory Jutras, 21, allegedly was advertising fireworks for sale on the Internet. Undercover agents met Jutras in the parking lot of the Maine Mall to complete the sale of 16,000 firecrackers and other fireworks. Investigators said they found more fireworks intended for sale in Jutras’ car and apartment, and he was issued a summons for selling consumer fireworks without a license, as is required by law.

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