Pierre City Commission members on Tuesday said yes to liberty and booms, bangs, buzzings, cracklings and screaming meemies and the general lighting up of the sky on the Fourth of July. And on the Third of July.
Changing a long-held distinction between the two sister cities on the Missouri River with the name Pierre, leaders of the one without “Fort” in the title decided on June 23 to legalize fireworks for its residents. This is the first time in several decades they will be permitted, according to officials.
On private property, that is. From 10 a.m. to midnight both days. With water hoses and fire extinguishers handy and adults in charge. Oh, and you better have it all cleaned up within 22 hours.
Well, where’s the fun in that?
Maybe a lot more than having to go to Fort Pierre, or at least to the river’s edge to gaze longingly at all the fire and noise in the sky to the west on the Fourth of July.
That’s been the Fourth of July tradition in Pierre for years. No fireworks for sale in Pierre; big tents full of them in Fort Pierre.
It could feel a little dangerous in Fort Pierre during the season of the Fourth, with firecrackers and bottle rockets zooming around all over town for days.
Mysterious explosions and dramatic displays of blossoms of light far above, especially shot from the breaks and bluffs to the south of town. Fireworks have been like so many fun things, perhaps — rodeo, fairgrounds, cattle and horses, the paddle wheel riverboat, the Hopscotch — that Fort Pierre has and Pierre doesn’t. On the Fourth, the big rodeo in Fort Pierre always ended with a huge fireworks exhibit that people drove from miles to see.
In Pierre, for years police have described the city’s fireworks ban concisely: “Anything that goes bang and goes high in the air is illegal.”
Many could make it even briefer: “If it’s fun, it’s illegal.”
Often people would get cited for setting off illegal fireworks in Pierre. To this point, lawful fireworks in Pierre have been sparklers, smoke bombs, fire cones and such.
On the positive side, it made for fewer fires started by fireworks in Pierre than Fort Pierre, it appears from news reports.
In fact, members of the Pierre Volunteer Fire Department would voluntarily park a few fire trucks in Fort Pierre in early July just to be handy where needed most.
The Fourth in Fort Pierre long has made for a great show for people in Pierre to watch from a distance, or nearer, and a place to buy fireworks.
Pierre Mayor Steve Harding said Tuesday that a resident had come to the Commission with concerns about COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. According to Harding, the resident said it seemed that a good way to avoid having people from Pierre “going to Fort Pierre and gathering in big groups to light fireworks” would be “to allow people (in Pierre) to light fireworks in their backyard for a family event.”
You know, it’s all about the pandemic.
In fact, national news organizations are reporting the idea of fireworks is taking the nation by storm, with many predicting this might be the most explosive Fourth of July in many moons, as people are bursting to get out and about and blow up things in a non-violent way.
City Commission members seem to believe the long tradition of vicarious fireworks in Pierre of watching Fort Pierre’s dazzling displays from across the wide Missouri, or crossing the bridge to see it all up close, should be left on the ash heap of history and used up bottle rockets.
It’s not a lawless town, Fort Pierre. In 2017, the Fort Pierre City Council added some rules, outlawing as fire dangers small bottle rockets that didn’t get high enough in the sky, as the big ones do, to fizzle out by the time they came back down, and sky lanterns, sort of floating candle holders.
Otherwise, Fort Pierre has remained richer in fireworks than Pierre, where you will hear a few with bangs go off, but it’s with an illegal smile.
The Pierre City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to relax the regulations for the Fourth.
Just what kind of fireworks would be legal 10 days from now in Pierre, Commissioner Blake Barringer asked Harding.
“It would be anything sold under the federal fireworks regulations, that is sold in Fort Pierre,” Harding said.
Commissioner Vona Johnson said someone contacted her to say, “I don’t think we should do that.”
Johnson said the main concerns she hears involve safety, as well as getting all the former fireworks cleaned up after the explosions are finished.
“Personally, I’m in favor of it, “Johnson said. “Knowing it’s more from (concern over) COVID and keeping people spread out.”
“I would be in favor of trying it, to see how it’s received around the community,” Commissioner Jamie Huizenga said.
Commissioner Jim Mehlhaff said a resident approached him to express support for the fireworks.
He talked to Fire Chief Ian Paul, Mehlhaff said. “To be honest, his concerns are fire dangers,” Mehlhaff told the other commissioners on Tuesday. “I think that can be mitigated with responsible behavior. To me, fireworks are kind of a tradition throughout South Dakota. Before I lived in Pierre — I moved here in 1994 — we had fireworks in our homes and our yards, ever since I was a young kid. And there’s a liberty aspect to this. It’s on your own property and (fireworks) are legal statewide.”
Mehlhaff said people need to be responsible and, “Have some kind of fire protection — a fire extinguisher, garden hoses, a couple buckets of water, so any issue can be dealt with quickly.”
Harding said if emergency officials issue a burn ban because of dry conditions, that will change the city’s plans.
But for now, the new city rule for fireworks is, light ‘em if you got ‘em: From 10 a.m. to midnight, July 3 and 4, on private property, with permission of the owner, with adults supervising and fire fighting items at hand, according to the City Commission.
Public property, including parks, ball fields, streets, front lawns of court houses, etc., will be out of bounds.
“And the debris must be cleaned up by 10 p.m., July 5,” Mehlhaff said, echoing the suggestion of Harding.
“Please be safe when you do this,” Harding told the city’s residents via the live OAHE-TV cable show on Channel 8 on the Midco system.
If there are serious problems, the City Commission probably won’t allow it in 2021, Harding added.