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Idaho's Big Bang Theory

Safe and sane doesn't mean legal


Children thrill to the sights. Pets cower at the sounds. Law enforcement agencies hope something doesn't go terribly wrong. The surest sign Fourth of July is looming is the appearance of stands popping up in parking lots across the Treasure Valley, each offering a profusion of pyrotechnics, ranging from small firecrackers to large fountains, and all wrapped in inviting, multi-colored packaging.

"I love doing this," said Crissy Boice, the third-generation operator of Outlet Fireworks, pointing to dangerous delights such as the "Psychedelic," "Pyro Surprise" and "Fish out of Water. You don't sell fireworks for the money; you do it because it's so fun."

Boice said she has been in the fireworks trade since she was 7 years old and currently shuttles between two Boise stands this summer, both of which opened since June 25 and will shut down Sunday, July 5.

Boice said her customers typically shell out $50 for fireworks, but it's not unusual for someone to drop $200-$300 in a single visit, which would be easy to do: individual "fountains" were selling for up to $42 at Boice's stand on the corner of State and 16th streets; variety packs of fireworks were going for as much as $150.

"People just love seeing pretty colors and celebrating the Fourth of July," said Boice, whose stand even has a kids' section featuring sparklers and smoke balls.

No one keeps a closer eye on sparks than Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan who calls the Fourth of July "a double-edge sword."

"I really love fireworks," Doan told Boise Weekly. "But we've got to be safe. The stands selling fireworks all around Boise have been inspected, and we count on them to sell the safe and sane items."

"Safe and sane" is the informal definition used throughout Idaho for legal fireworks, which includes most sparklers and some fountains, as long as they do not rocket or emit sparks more than 20 vertical feet.

Even though larger fireworks are illegal in the state, the paradox is that many of them are sold right outside Boise city limits: In 2014, Ada County emergency responders logged 138 reports of illegal fireworks. Boice said her brother's stand outside of Nampa makes a lot more money than the stands in Boise.

He sells illegal fireworks, but in order to purchase them, customers must sign a document saying they will not be used, handled, stored or lit within Idaho's borders. But even the smallest, seemingly safest, fireworks aren't legal everywhere.

According to Boise Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Romeo Gervais, fireworks are banned in all areas north of Hill Road, in and around Camel's Back Park and north of Warm Springs Avenue.

"Even the safe and sane ones that are legal in other areas of the city are not allowed in those areas due to our wildfire risks," said Gervais.

If there's any place in Idaho that puts the term "safe and sane" to the test, it's the Boise County community of Crouch, where locals and visitors are encouraged to set off fireworks in the middle of town on July 4.

YouTube videos chronicle how past holidays have been marked by sparks flying through crowds, past rooftops and over the local gas stations. Popular T-shirts read, "I Survived the 4th of July in Crouch," and this year's holiday motto is "Chaos in Crouch."

Chamber of Commerce President C.J. Scharf said they pull off the extravaganza "by the skin of our teeth."

"There's really a fair amount of dissent [over the fireworks] here and there," said Scharf. "The chamber shells out $5,000-$6,000 to put on a drunken bash that mostly attracts 1A and 2C plates; so it's not really for us."

Ada and Canyon County residents who don't head into the chaos are likely to leave the fireworks to the professionals and, as in years past, Ann Morrison Park will be packed with a daylong menu of activities (see Picks, Page 18) before the big showcase at sundown.

Up to 30,000 attendees are expected in the park throughout the day, with about 10,000 staying to watch the show, managed by Oregon-based Western Display Fireworks, who said this year's show will feature the "Eight Pattern Butterfly" and "Strobe Waterfalls."

"They're absolutely beautiful," Western Display co-owner Heather Gobet told BW.

"They're these really intense white strobes that are shot in a waterfall pattern... they just hang in the sky and twinkle."

City of Boise Director of Community Partnerships Diana Lachiondo said the city will spend around $25,000 for the fireworks, partnering with several sponsors.

"Mainly we're looking for a big, bold beautiful show," said Lachiondo. "Fireworks isn't our expertise so we leave it to the experts. It's the epitome of the term 'biggest bang for our buck.'"