When residents of Ellicott City and beyond heard loud booms about 9:50 p.m. Jan. 4, many wondered what the noise could be.
In the dead of winter with exactly seven months to go before the Fourth of July, fireworks didn't immediately jump to mind as the source.
Citizens lit up social media with questions about the event, sending the comment tally on the county's Fire Department and Rescue Services Facebook page skyrocketing.
And the county's emergency response center received 84 calls related to the noise between 9:49 and 10:10 p.m., according to fire department spokesperson Maria Hogg.
The source of the commotion, as it turns out, was simple enough, though unusual for an icy January night.
According to the fire department, the booms came from a fireworks show at a private event off Springhaven Court in Ellicott City's Farside neighborhood.
The department posted about the noise on its Facebook page a little after 11:50 p.m. Saturday night.
"Many residents have reported hearing loud 'booms' throughout the county this evening," the post read, explaining that they were the result of a private fireworks display. "County fire marshals were on scene and a permit was issued for the event, which lasted approximately 10 minutes."
According to Hogg, the permit was issued to Constance Dancel.
Fire trucks driving through the area around the same time "were heading to an unrelated incident," according to the post.
The fireworks display counted a total of 160 3-inch salutes, 120 4-inch shells, 110 5-inch shells and 64 6-inch shells, Hogg said in an email Tuesday.
Residents who came to the fire department's Facebook page for answers said they had heard the fireworks from as far away as Eldersburg and Columbia. Some said they were startled; others called the unexpected display "a beautiful surprise."
Many expressed relief that their initial fears about the noise being the result of a fire, bombing or train crash weren't realized.
"My husband and I heard the sounds when we were walking back to our car at the Snowden Square movie theater in Columbia, so the sound certainly did carry," wrote Miriam K. Phillips. "We thought it sounded like fireworks — at least that 'thum' sound of the mortars being launched – but couldn't see anything. Glad to hear it was a fun event and not a fire at some industrial storage facility, which was our other working theory."
"Sounded like war in the middle of [winter]… alarming," wrote Amy Pickwick.
Others commented that their pets had been frightened by the sound.
"Scared my dog all the way in Columbia," wrote Christine Johnston.
The fire department issued a second post apologizing for the confusion at 12:55 a.m. Sunday morning.
"Needless to say, we could have done a better job informing our community that the event was going to take place," part of the post read. "As we all share and learn about the use of social media as a method to keep our community informed, we at HCDFRS apologize for creating any concern by the citizens and visitors to our [county]."
Though it is the event planner's responsibility to notify neighbors of a fireworks display once a permit has been issued, a representative from the fire department said in a Facebook comment that HCDFRS will make informing the community of permitted fireworks events "a top priority" in the future.
Hogg said via email Tuesday that "for this event, the planner was instructed to canvass the Farside and Gaither Farm neighborhoods adjacent to the launch site."
She said the fire marshal processes less than five requests for private fireworks displays each year.
The approval process for a private fireworks display is the same as for a public one, according to Hogg. In order to be approved, permit holders must hire a professional pyrotechnics company; provide a site plan for the shoot, an itinerary and a manifest for the fireworks; and have at least $5 million in insurance coverage.
A call to Dancel hadn't been returned as of Tuesday afternoon.