I have been surprised by the number of negative comments that The Island Free Press has received about July 4 plans on Hatteras and Ocracoke.
There will be no fireworks on the islands for a second year, but there will be other celebrations. Apparently, that does not please some people.
What has surprised me is the number of folks who are so unhappy about it that they are vowing not to return here again on their vacations.
Here’s a letter that we received this week:
“No fireworks for the Fourth of July? Again? Don't you people realize that a Fourth of July "street fair" without fireworks isn't really a Fourth of July at all. This place is becoming lame fast. Might as well bulldoze all of the houses and let the birds, turtles, and tree-hugging Democrats have the entire island.”
There are good reasons that there will be no fireworks on July 4 this year, and they really have nothing to do with the extensive resource closures of the past few years to protect nesting birds and turtles that have made so many people unhappy.
Fireworks are dangerous. They cause fires that threaten property and they kill and injure people.
They are especially a fire danger on Hatteras and Ocracoke, where the houses, many built of wood, are close together, and the winds are more often than not really blowing hard.
Fireworks, except for the community displays, have been outlawed on Ocracoke since 2002 and on Hatteras Island since 2007. Fireworks have been illegal on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches for some time.
Hyde County outlawed all fireworks, including sparklers, on Ocracoke after a marsh fire, started by pyrotechnics, almost burned down the village.
Dare County outlawed fireworks on Hatteras Island after a fire in Brigands’ Bay in Frisco, caused by bottle rockets, almost burned down a house.
All of us who live here want our visitors to enjoy their vacations, but the constant fireworks noise from dark into the early morning hours was becoming a real problem -- even without the fire danger. And this was not just a problem on July 4, but all summer and sometimes in the winter.
Combine the “fireworks everywhere” scenario with people who are not necessarily responsible about their displays or familiar with our wind conditions, and you have a formula for a fire disaster.
Despite bans on fireworks by individuals, community fireworks continued in Avon, Hatteras village, and Ocracoke until two years ago.
On July 4, 2009, a crew working under contract for a South Carolina pyrotechnics company was setting up for the Ocracoke fireworks near the ferry docks in the village. A terrific explosion in the truck where the fireworks were stored killed four people and injured a fifth.
After that accident, the North Carolina General Assembly passed regulations to strengthen the training requirements for people involved in setting up fireworks.
Basically, these new laws made it more difficult and expensive for small communities, whose local fire departments were handling the displays, to continue with them.
And that’s what happened on both Hatteras and Ocracoke.
This year, the Ocracoke Business and Civic Association July 4 committee tried mightily to bring back the fireworks but was unsuccessful, not only because of the expense. A plan to launch fireworks off barges didn’t work out because of liability issues.
And Fred Westervelt, a member of the committee, said that the National Park Service was asked but declined to allow fireworks to move back to the Lifeguarded Beach where they had been staged for many years.
It’s true that the Park Service will probably never again allow fireworks to be staged on seashore beaches because of the stringent resource protection measures, but the absence of pyrotechnic displays on the island this year cannot be blamed on the park or the consent decree.
Furthermore, Hatteras and Ocracoke islands are suffering from an extreme drought. Wildfires burning on the mainland to the northwest and southwest of the islands are bringing us heavy smoke at time. The woods and underbrush are seriously dry – all the more reason to pass on the fireworks this year.
According to the Weather Channel, many other U.S. communities, especially in the drought-stricken Southeast, are cancelling community fireworks this year.
Along with the drought has come a state ban on open burning, and the Park Service has followed the state’s lead to ban bonfires on seashore beaches temporarily.
It’s dry out there.
Please don’t set off fireworks and don’t start a bonfire on the beach.
If you see fireworks displays or beach fires, call 911 for the Dare County Sheriff’s Office or the National Park Service to respond.
Meanwhile, if you ask me, a night at the beach even without fireworks is better than a city night with expansive and expensive pyrotechnics.
Head to the beach and watch for nature’s light show – shooting stars and glowing phosphorescent organisms in the surf.
Go to Rodanthe on the afternoon of July 4 for patriotic music, a reading of the Declaration on Independence, and hot dogs and watermelon.
Go to Hatteras village in the late afternoon and evening for a street fair with good food and a band.
And, finally, Ocracoke has special activities all day, including its famous Old-Time Parade at 3 p.m.
There were probably no community fireworks celebrations on that night of July 4, 1776, when representatives of 13 colonies spread up and down the East Coast signed the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it probably took weeks or months at that time for the colonists to even get word of the states’ efforts to declare their freedom.
And, if you think of it, it really makes no sense that July 4 cannot be celebrated without fireworks.
If you are on Hatteras and Ocracoke on July 4, you can tune your televisions to PBS for the national Independence Day Celebration on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s a great show. I watch it every year. Great entertainment, great music, great patriotism, and great fireworks.
Ramp up that volume, sit back, and enjoy.
And if you can’t quite get into the spirit, maybe you need to read again “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.”
It concludes like this:
‘We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
It was signed by John Hancock and the representatives of the 13 colonies that were soon to become the 13 states in The United States of America.
You can CLICK HERE to read the declaration of our independence. It’s not long. It’s concise and to the point.
This year, make reading it a family tradition on the Fourth of July.
And we should remember that we don’t need pyrotechnics on our islands to celebrate those founding fathers who gave us the greatest gift – the gift of freedom.
Let us all celebrate our freedom on July 4 – no fireworks required or needed.