Baltimore-area residents may not always agree, but when it comes to the spate of fireworks popping off all night across town, many have suddenly found themselves on the same page.
From Poppleton and Carrollton Ridge to Patterson Park, Hampden and Locust Point, the barrage of crackles, booms and pows has united much of Baltimore around a common set of concerns, ranging from fears about accidental fires to frustrations about interrupted sleep.
“It’s mayhem. It’s a lack of understanding about what it means to live in civil society,” said Janet Miller, who lives near Hollins Market and has seen fireworks go off until the wee hours of the morning since Memorial Day weekend. “It’s hard to continue to live here and feel safe.”
While the run-up to Independence Day usually sparks some amateur fireworks displays in Baltimore, longtime city residents say this year’s showings feel different in presentation, tone and timing.
Residents all over the city — and in other major U.S. cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco — have taken to Facebook, Reddit and other online neighborhood bulletins to vent and share opinions, with some posts receiving more than 150 replies and dozens of likes and shares. Parents of young children, military veterans and local politicians have weighed in.
Pigtown resident Cat Wall has counted 17 nights in a row of audible fireworks, starting as early as 7 p.m. and continuing as late as 4 a.m. Her dog, Halas, a 12-year-old chocolate Lab, has taken to hiding in the basement and refusing outdoor walks when it gets dark, she said.
Wall joined her Pigtown neighbors in discussing their anxieties with Southern Police District Maj. Byron Conaway at a June 9 community meeting held over Zoom and archived on Facebook. Conaway said while Baltimore police have been logging fireworks complaints, they rank lower in priority compared with calls about violent crime and the ongoing protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It is illegal, but enforcing it is something different,” Conaway said.
He added that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has reduced the number of prosecutions for nonviolent crimes amid the coronavirus pandemic so as to not overcrowd jails and prisons or stretch police departments too thin. However, a spokeswoman for Mosby said her office has never prosecuted fireworks violations, even before the pandemic.
Conaway, who said he also lives in the city, likened the sounds to bombs dropping, and acknowledged that groups of kids have been setting off fireworks all over Baltimore, not just in the Southern District. But, he urged community members to approach the groups casually instead of confronting them with anger.
“The issue with all of these children is that we kind of treat them like they’re outsiders instead of trying to have a conversation with them,” he said. “I think all of them just need a hug, to be honest with you; they all need some kind of attention.”
Catalina Byrd, who ran unsuccessfully in the June 2 Republican primary election for Baltimore mayor, said she finds the fireworks festive, and worries that some of the concerns have been unfairly targeted toward teenagers looking to let off some steam after months of quarantining in the house.
“Fireworks and dirt bikes are a regular, Baltimore thing,” the Reservoir Hill resident said. “I don’t mean to be insensitive toward people with [post traumatic stress disorder] and veterans, but it’s just indicative of summer in Baltimore. It’s normal.”
Byrd also said she worried about some angry city residents creating an “anti-black” narrative, even unintentionally, especially now as protesters across the nation look to call out racism.
“That’s what concerns me, not the fireworks themselves,” she added.
Consumer fireworks remain banned in much of Maryland, including in Baltimore City and Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties, as well as in the town of Bel Air and in Ocean City. Because of the relatively tight restrictions, consumers have traveled just over state lines to Pennsylvania, where retailers sell products to those without specialized permits or licenses.
Joe VanOudenhove III, managing partner of Sky King Fireworks, which has several locations in Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and Indiana, said Maryland consumers can travel north on Interstate 83 directly to his shops.
“People are home, they’re bored, they’re not vacationing, it’s summer, they’ve lost a number of holidays already — it’s a perfect combination of events,” said VanOudenhove. “There has been an uptick in sales. Definitely more fireworks in the hands of consumers this year.”
Some products sell for as little as $2 each, he added, while others can cost up to $200.
VanOudenhove said consumers may have more reason to buy fireworks this year since many Fourth of July parties and seasonal concerts, sporting events and gatherings had been canceled due to COVID-19. He prefers they buy from stores like his, where attendants can provide instructions and answer questions, rather than attempt to make their own at home.
“If people want fireworks, they’re going to find them,” he said, adding that his stores were running discounts to entice more buyers to make purchases. “I see it every day — this show is canceled, that show is canceled, so people are going to have their own.”
At Phantom Fireworks in York, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Noah Miller loaded up his Nissan Altima with dozens of fireworks, filling the trunk to the brim. The Baltimore County resident said his family has parties and cookouts planned for Father’s Day weekend and the Fourth of July.
”Everything’s safe, though. There ain’t nothing reckless,” he said. “We do it for the kids, mostly.” About half of the cars in the parking lot were marked with out-of-state tags, many of them from Maryland, but also from Virginia as well.
In Carrollton Ridge, Cynthia Tensley, president of the neighborhood community association, said she approached a small group of adults in their 20s and 30s on Sunday. They told her that they had been engaged in a fireworks competition with other neighborhoods. Since then, it’s been mostly quiet, she said.
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Tensley said people in her neighborhood have become more brazen since the coronavirus outbreak — disregarding open container laws, gathering in large groups and making more noise.
“They don’t care because they know there’s no consequences,” she said. “You pick your battles. It’s all about how you approach people.”
In an email, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson Detective Nicole Monroe said officers are aware of the recurring fireworks and are responding to complaints. She did not disclose the number of complaints logged about fireworks over the past few weeks or the number of times officers responded to those complaints.
“Fireworks are not only illegal in Baltimore City but they are extremely dangerous and can cause loss of vision, severe burns, other serious injuries, as well as fires,” she said. “Officers ... are not only looking for the bad actors committing these offenses, but are also examining the location and searching for the illegal pyrotechnics.”
Monroe encouraged members of the community to report where fireworks are being sold, ignited and stored.
In a statement Tuesday, the Maryland Office of the Fire Marshal said people can use fireworks in approved areas and encouraged residents to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing recommendations.
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.