In 1778, in fact, George Washington marked the nation's independence by granting his soldiers a double ration of rum; then he ordered them to fire up the cannons in an artillery salute. Two hundred years ago, a Minuteman was more worried about a blunderbuss exploding in his hands than he was about drunken revelers with firecrackers.
Two centuries later, however, we have refined the fine art of combining patriotism and self-injury. In 2007, more than 9,000 people were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. Half of them were teenagers or younger. Hundreds spent the night in the hospital. Eleven of them died.
Faces are burned; hands are blown off; shrapnel from fireworks flies into the air, then slices into children's eyeballs. Houses burn down; so do entire forests.
Yes, in the area of pyrotechnical displays, we've made great progress. And it's not just the great big, booming Roman candles that cause the most havoc: The most dangerous type of firework is the lowly sparkler. It sizzles brightly, and then it sizzles you. One out of every nine fireworks-related injuries is caused by that pretty, swirling thingie that you just lit up and handed to your toddler.
Airway Heights Fire Department Fire Chief John Schoen says that fireworks need to carry the label "Safe and Sane" -- and that even those (which definitely do not include bottle rockets or the notorious M-80) can cause injury. Schoen cites a regulatory and jurisdictional battle, too: "The best bet is to only buy fireworks off the reservations. Fireworks bought on the reservation need to be set off on that reservation," he says.
Maybe you should rethink that blow-'em-up extravaganza that you were planning, and maybe our Independence Day celebrations aren't as free as they were back in 1777. But with nearly every little town providing its own civic-minded display of fireworks (see sidebar), maybe all you should do is sit back and enjoy a brewskie. Let somebody else play with the explosives.
Local Firework displays:
& lt;li & COLVILLE FOURTH An Independence Day celebration will begin at dark. Free. Northeast Washington Fairgrounds, 411 W. Astor St., Colville, Wash. (509-684-5973) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & FIREWORKS AND WHEAT An Independence Day celebration will be from 5-11 pm. Free. Sunnyside Park, Pullman, Wash. (509-334-3565) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & FIRST FRIDAY IN WALLACE Live music, entertainment and a costume contest will be a part of this event beginning at 5 pm. Free. Sixth Street Melodrama, 212 Sixth St., Wallace, Idaho (208-752-8871) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & FOURTH AT THE CASINO A fireworks show will begin at dark. Free. Coeur d'Alene Casino, 27068 Hwy. 95, Worley, Idaho (800-523-2464) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & FOURTH IN IDAHO Sit by the lake and watch the fireworks at dusk; 10 am-11 pm. Free. Coeur d'Alene Lake, Sherman Ave. at First St., Coeur d'Alene www.coeurdalene.org (208-415-0105) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & INDEPENDENCE DOWNTOWN A day of activities finishing with fireworks: 10 am-11 pm. Free. Riverfront Park, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., www.visitspokane.com (742-9373) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & INDEPENDENCE IN SILVER VALLEY A pancake breakfast, a parade, games and a concert will be from 8 am-10:30 pm. Free. Teeters Field, Kellogg, Idaho www.silvervalleychamber.com (208-512-2173) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & MOSES INDEPENDENCE DAY Bloodline will perform contemporary hits and fireworks will shoot across the sky at dusk. Free. McKosh Park, Moses Lake, Wash. www.moseslake.com (509-766-6240) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & SLIM INDEPENDENCE Too Slim and the Taildraggers will perform before the fireworks at 7 pm. Corner of Vista Dr. and Molter Rd., Liberty Lake, Wash. (755-6726) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & DEER PARK INDEPENDENCE A fireworks celebration will begin at dusk. Free. 316 E. Crawford Rd., Deer Park, Wash. (276-8801) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & KALISPEL INDEPENDENCE The Kalispel Tribe of Indians will have a fireworks show -- yes, beginning at dusk in Usk. (Washington, that is.) (242-7000) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & LIGHT 'EM UP IN AIRWAY HEIGHTS Make your own fireworks show beginning at dusk. Airway Heights, Wash. (244-5578) & lt;/li &
& lt;li & PARADE AND FIREWORKS SHOW Music and a parade at 10 am; fireworks at dusk. Free. City Beach, Sandpoint, Idaho (208-263-0887) & lt;/li &