Fourth of July fireworks skyrocket as Front Range lights up — with complaints

The Front Range celebrated the Fourth of July with a boom.

And a boom, and a boom, and a boom, and a boom — the region saw an explosion of fireworks Saturday night with detonations that seemed to be more frequent and widespread than typical July 4 celebrations.

“It was like no other year I’ve ever experienced,” Thornton police Officer Matt Barnes said. “It was pretty non-stop as soon as it got dark.”

Firefighters extinguished brush fires and dumpster fires, emergency dispatch phone lines rang off the hook, pets cowered and some residents glowered as the blasts kept on well into the night.

“I’ve lived there in that building for 10 years, and it’s never been like that,” Denver resident Julia Johns said of the cacophony in Capitol Hill. “It’s like they lost their minds from quarantine and all went to Wyoming and brought all the illegal fireworks back.”

In Douglas County, the sheriff’s office handled 231 fireworks calls on July 4, Deputy Gabriel Uribe said Sunday. That’s a massive influx that overwhelmed the dispatch center’s phone lines, prompting the sheriff’s office around 9:30 p.m. to publicly ask residents to call 911 only for true emergencies.

“We couldn’t keep up, the system couldn’t keep up, with all the calls coming in,” Uribe said.

Deputies answered just 105 calls for fireworks during all of the six days before the Fourth, he said. On Saturday, the sheriff’s office had a team of 10 deputies dedicated just to answering fireworks calls.

“It was a huge amount of calls coming in,” Uribe said. “And these are the ones that are coming in. I’m sure there were a lot of people who decided not to call for fireworks in their neighborhood.”

In Thornton, the deluge came on the heels of a two-week period in which the city saw a 75% increase in fireworks compared to the same period in 2019, Barnes said. That’s a phenomenon that’s been seen across the Front Range in the past few weeks — Denver and Aurora police both reported skyrocketing complaints before July 4.

“The two weeks prior to July 1, we had over 500 calls and issued 40 summons,” Barnes said, adding that the numbers for Saturday night weren’t immediately available Sunday.

He and others speculated this year saw more fireworks because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and the stay home orders, the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the cancellation of professional fireworks shows and perhaps just some pent up energy.

“Just a little bit of everything, just a perfect storm,” Barnes said.

The South Metro Fire Rescue Authority pre-scheduled 10 extra firefighters, three engines and a supervisor to deal with July 4, and the extra manpower was much needed, spokeswoman Connor Wist said Sunday.

The firefighters responded to 20 fires likely started by fireworks, she said, as well as four smoke investigations and five illegal burns.

“It’s just the nature of 2020 right now,” she said.

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