There were a lot of illegal fireworks before, during and after July 4. And there were a good many bon fires as well, which are also illegal.
But there weren’t any arrests. And, more important, there weren’t any reported injuries, according to Warwick’s Police and Fire chiefs.
Fireworks and bon fires have become an accepted form of Independence Day celebration, although a number of residents don’t care for cherry bombs being tossed in their yards or aerial displays over their homes. They call to protest but, while the Police Department logs their complaint and follows up, Chief Col. Stephen McCartney says there’s really not much they can do unless the display is still in progress.
Further, he said yesterday, what is legal and what isn’t has become blurred by last year’s passage of a law allowing certain fireworks, but not rockets, cherry bombs and firecrackers.
“There’s so much,” he said, “it’s become all the more murky now with the law.”
McCartney described the night of July 3 as “overwhelming,” with an estimated 5,000 people turning out for the city fireworks display at Oakland Beach. The department’s third shift was held over to cope with the situation, which included neighborhood parties that had gotten out of hand, underage drinking and the logistics of getting so many people in and out of Oakland Beach.
“It creates chaos for us,” he said.
Chasing down residents who might be setting off illegal fireworks, unless it is a situation “that becomes too provocative,” is too much for the department.
“This is like trying to plug up the leaks in a dike with 5,000 leaks,” he said.
With the law allowing some, and not others, it makes it difficult for police.
“It’s contraband,” McCartney said of aerial fireworks.
However, he added, in order to seize the fireworks, he would need to know where they were and what they are and also have a search warrant.
On the other hand, bon fires along the shore have become such a tradition that the Fire Department knows exactly where to look.
Chief Edmund Armstrong said his crews started making checks on the piles of debris collected for the fires about a week before the 4th, to ensure that they weren’t too close to residents and could be easily accessed. One of the larger fires was at the end of Rock Avenue in Conimicut, where a mountain of building debris the size of a house went up in flames. Warwick is not alone in the tradition of July 4 bonfires. They lit up the shore up and down the bay.
On July 1 through the 3, Armstrong had trucks drive through neighborhoods to identify vacant houses and to make visual checks on bon fires.
Obviously, not all aerial firework displays are illegal. Permits were issued for the Oakland Beach display on July 3 and the Warwick Country Club display the following night, Armstrong said.