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A Fourth without sparklers isn't all bad

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

It's one of those questions you realize you have answered as soon as you ask it.

When I read last week that Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties had joined other counties governed by the (at least relatively) sane in banning the sale and use of fireworks for the time being, I asked myself, "Isn't that a no-brainer?"

I realized instantly, of course, that it is those with no brains at whom the ban is aimed.

Let it be said here that I sympathize with those who are entertained by bright flashes and loud noises (I had my fill decades ago, thank you) and even more so with those whose livelihood depends completely or partly on the sale of those little entertaining explosive and pyrotechnic devices.

But you don't have to be eaten up with smarts to notice that we are almost literally living in a tinderbox and that the tiniest spark could (and on an almost daily basis, lately, does) turn into an inferno.

And, blessed as they have been, don't let a couple of weekend showers convince you that everything is hunky-dory and it's time to stick that M-80 in your neighbor's mailbox again this year.

As much as I would like to respect the intelligence of others, I was behind three vehicles this morning from which burning cigarette butts were thrown in a trip of less than 3 miles.

Back in the good old days, when all fireworks were banned, it was only because of their occasional tendency to blind or maim users. I, of course, was the kind of kid who revelled in using illegally purchased fireworks or, later, made my own.

But the current drought is cause for real concern.

I saw a letter the other day from a reader who, quite correctly, questioned the use of the word drought where brown lawns and the occasional dried up lake are the problem. On a scale that includes Ethiopia and other frequently drought-baked countries where millions starve, it does seem rather semantically overkillish to use the term.

But talk to the guy watching a raging brush fire sweep toward his house while he and his family try to get the scrapbooks, personal papers and a teddy bear or two into the car, and ask him his definition.

Mark my words. If the current drought continues until July 4 and the fireworks restrictions aren't listed, just open your windows and listen that night ... and you'll be able to locate the no-brainers in your neighborhood by the noise.

As I sat down to write this I spoke to a friend in Zephyrhills who told me it was pouring down rain there. Nothing would make me -- and every other person living in sinkhole prone, dry-well, burned brown areas of these three counties -- happier than to see that become a daily occurrence throughout the area and to have minor street flooding and mosquitoes breeding in standing water become the major problems of the holiday.

But it will take a lot of rain just to get us caught up, and this is one of those times I sincerely advise folks to listen to public officials.

Firefighters and cops tend to be more honest than politicians when speaking to areas of concern, because it is their lives, not just their jobs, that go on the line when people ignore warnings and think they won't get mugged in a bad neighborhood or their bottle rockets won't set a pile of dry pine needles on fire.

I have a friend out in the country whose burn pile will soon be bigger than her house because of fire restrictions.

But a big burn pile is better than having a large scorched piece of ground where your house used to be.

If you must have fireworks, tell your wife those pants do make her look fat, tell your husband that the La-Z-Boy recliner looks better faced away from the television set or tell your neighbor that your new hobby is going to be working on dirt bikes in the lean-to you're building next to your house.

There are other ways than loud noises to celebrate this nation's independence.

Quiet reflection doesn't inspire the "ooohs" and "aaaahs" that skyrockets do.

Or, does it?

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