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Officials: Watch out for dangerous illegal fireworks

Jennifer Wing

With the Fourth of July fast approaching, many people are making their annual trips to their favorite firework stands to load up for the holiday. This is also the time of year when emergency rooms see hundreds of fireworks-related injuries. 

Boom City, on the Tulalip Indian Reservation north of Everett, has one of the largest selection of fireworks in Washington state. Boom City has more than 130 booths selling everything from sparklers to 500-gram cakes, which is sort of like a fireworks show in a box.

Joe Zackuse and his family have been in this business for 40 years. Most of his customers spend anywhere from $100 to $2,000.

“They want anything that’s loud or lights up the whole sky, or makes their neighbors envious. You have people with neighborhood wars, like shows—who has the better show,” he said.

Some people load up the car and go home with their goods.

Others like to stay and use Boom City’s “display field” to blow up their stuff. Brenda Zackuse, Joe’s mom, says the area is safe.

“The children are pretty much segregated,” she said. “We have it lined off for the different types of fireworks that are going to be lit, and for the age groups.”

While most of the fireworks sold here follow state regulations, there are times when tribal police catch products that are not legal and incredibly dangerous.

Tulalip police confiscated a mortar called “Thunder and Diamond” at Boom City. During a demonstration by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the mortar took off the arm of the plywood dummy to which it was attached.

Credit Jennifer Wing
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives displays illegal fireworks.

At the same demonstration, a small arsenal of illegal fireworks was displayed on a table. The homemade ones were easy to spot.

Brennan Phillips, an explosives officer with ATF, advises against touch anything wrapped in plain brown paper, “Or without a colorful label is an indication that it’s probably not legal.”

But it’s not always so easy to tell. Phillips showed a long well-labeled tube, called Light Saber, that, if pointed in the right direction, could riddle someone with holes.

“So this has all the right consumer labeling. That’s where this one gets more difficult,” Phillips said. “Typically you have to ask the right questions to get the illegal item. If you’re there to buy legal fireworks, you’re going to be sold legal fireworks unless you say, ‘I want the good stuff,’ and you’re willing to pay a premium for it.”

Phillips says enforcing the laws dealing with fireworks is messy, and involves confusing rules and regulations.

And it can be deadly. Last year, a man in Eastern Washington was killed after handling a powerful firework with a quick fuse. In 2012, the state saw 226 fireworks-related injuries across the state.

To keep things fun and safe, officials urge residents to make sure fireworks are even legal within city or county limits. Fireworks are banned in a number of cities, including Seattle and Tacoma.

Also, don’t let kids play with them without adult supervision, keep your pets indoors, and consider getting your fireworks fix by taking in a professional show.   



Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.