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Megan Card, Published July 05 2012

UPDATED: Area police respond to more than 100 calls about fireworks

FARGO – The origins of the firework may be from China, but come the Fourth of July, Fargo-Moorhead residents were the ones with Roman candles in hand.

Setting them off from street corners and backyard grill-outs, illegal fireworks displays were sky-high Wednesday night.

The Fargo Police Department responded to 83 fireworks complaint calls during the holiday, 31 more than they received in 2011.

Perpetuated by warm weather, Fargo’s Lt. Joel Vettel said the influx of fireworks activity could be because of the holiday falling in the middle of the week, when more people were in town.

But call numbers do not reflect the number of people actually using illegal fireworks, said Vettel. The police respond to reported complaints, so the total number of people using illegal fireworks in the area is unknown.

The Moorhead Police Department reported 28 calls, eight less than the year before. But Lt. Deric Swenson said officers could have stopped at four or five residences in the neighborhood, information that is not reflected in the dispatch log.

Swenson said fireworks become a constant complaint around the Fourth, and while police try to respond, many times they become bottlenecked in an area. With the number of unreported pyrotechnics and unrecorded police stops, the number of people using fireworks could be two or three times higher, he said.

Even when the police are given a fireworks complaint, the chances of the offender receiving a citation is up to the discretion of the officer. And this is assuming the offender is caught in the first place.

“We respond to every complaint, but it is just a matter of what we find when we get there,” Vettel said. “Does it make a difference if it is at 5 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning? Yeah, it does.”

Vettel said most of the time, officers issue verbal warnings for isolated circumstances. The level of action is based on the totality of the situation, he said, dependent on how many people are present and if there is a visible threat to people or property,

“Even if they found a person for every fireworks call, it would be a mathematical impossibility for the police department to write every person a citation,” he said.

Enforcement was the same in West Fargo. Out of the 35 calls made to the police department between July 1 and July 5, no arrests or citations were made, said Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan.

Fargo’s Assistant Fire Chief Gary Lorenz said to his knowledge, the people involved in setting two to three trees and a deck on fire were not issued a citation or fined, either.

According to the city of Fargo, if police find someone in possession of and/or using fireworks, they would receive a citation that requires them to appear in court and possibly a $100 fine.

But to those residents sitting on their back porches watching the neighborhood light up the night sky with Wizzlers and bottle rockets, the threat of a citation is hardly observed by locals.