June 19,  2008

A reminder that all fireworks are illegal on the islands and seashore beaches


If you brought fireworks to Hatteras or Ocracoke this year, don’t even think about using them.

All fireworks are now illegal on both islands.  That includes everything – even such devices as sparklers and smoke bombs.

Certain fireworks were already illegal in North Carolina and on Cape Hatteras National
Seashore beaches.

State law prohibits any pyrotechnics that propel or explode.  Think of this as any fireworks that leave the ground and go “boom.”  This includes bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers, and cherry bombs.  Other fireworks, such as sparklers and smoke bombs, are legal, according to state law.

On the seashore beaches, federal law prohibits the use of all fireworks, including sparklers and smoke bombs and the like.

Hyde County outlawed all fireworks, even the kinds that are legal elsewhere in the state, in 2002, after a devastating brush fire started by pyrotechnics threatened to burn down the entire village.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners followed Hyde’s lead last year, so all fireworks are now illegal on Hatteras Island.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by the board at its March 19, 2007, meeting.  The passage came after a relatively short period of consideration – just a month and a half.

The commissioners were influenced by some 300 e-mails that they received, mostly from Hatteras islanders who strongly support the ban. There was little or no constituency opposing the ban.

Islanders were galvanized by a blaze started by bottle rockets on the night of Jan. 27, 2007, at a home in Brigand’s Bay in Frisco.  It was a spectacular fire, fanned by southwest winds gusting over 30 mph. The fire destroyed the front yard, but it could have been much worse. 

Most residents were already fed up with the burgeoning use of illegal fireworks on the island. The pyrotechnics are not only a nuisance but also a serious fire danger on an island of mostly wood-frame homes often located close together.

There have always been a few people who break the rules – tourists, mainly – but in recent years the illegal fireworks were out of control, especially in the summer months and especially around July 4.

Residents grew more concerned about the safety issues and the inconveniences.  Hatteras Island volunteer fire departments were also concerned and frustrated.  Sheriff’s deputies could not keep up with the violations of the fireworks law.  National Park Service officials don’t have enough rangers to patrol the 70-plus miles of beaches that are popular places for illegal fireworks displays, even though the danger of setting dune grasses on fire is very real. Rental management companies were increasingly concerned about protecting the property of their homeowners.

After last year’s fire, residents focused on the mixed message that tourists received
when they arrived on Hatteras.  Stores on the island advertised fireworks – packages of those that were legal, mostly sparklers and smoke bombs and the like.  However, many islanders thought that the advertisement of any fireworks gave visitors the wrong impression that all pyrotechnics were allowed.

The issue was even more confusing for visitors when you consider that sparklers and such were legal in the villages on Hatteras and illegal on the National Park Service beaches.

Ocracoke’s five-year-old ban is working well for that village, and that also influenced Dare’s commissioners. By eliminating any confusion about what’s legal, strict enforcement, and aggressive education of visitors, Ocracoke fire and law enforcement officials say the problem of illegal fireworks has been largely eliminated.

Ocracoke is a small, compact village, making enforcement easier.  It will be more difficult in the villages of Hatteras, spread out along the island.

However, you can be sure that islanders will be calling 911 on a regular basis when they see violations, as they have been urged to do by Dare County Sheriff Rodney Midgett.

Rental management companies have been including information on the illegal fireworks in information packets for guests, who have either not been getting around to reading it or have been just ignoring it.  And, check the lease on your rental house.  Most companies make illegal fireworks use grounds for immediate expulsion of the guests.  Your management company might also get a call if you ignore the law.

Some areas are going even further in education and enforcement. Last year, the Brigand’s Bay Homeowners Association distributed refrigerator magnets about the fireworks ban for all rental cottages.  The association hired off-duty officers during the summer to patrol the subdivision at night and enforce the ban. The group plans to hire deputies again this summer.

The reason for the ban was driven home again in the spring when visitors in a rental cottage in Hatteras village set a marsh on fire with illegal fireworks.  It was a serious fire that burned about two acres, but volunteers firefighters were able to extinguish without  property damage. A visitor was charged with two misdemeanors in that incident.

We islanders are not doing this to ruin vacations.  We aren’t even doing this because fireworks at midnight are exasperating if you have to get up to go to work in the morning or because they terrify the family dog.

We are doing this because fireworks on these islands are a very real hazard to our safety – and yours -- and to our property. 

On July 4, there will still be fireworks displays in Avon, Hatteras, and Ocracoke for all to enjoy.

But, please, do not use fireworks at your rental houses, motels, campsites, or on the beaches of the national seashore.

If you do, you might have a visit from one of Dare County’s very fine deputy sheriffs or the park’s very fine law enforcement rangers.

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