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Charlottesville fireworks shows, complaints fizzle for fourth straight Fourth

There were no official firework displays for the Fourth of July in the city of Charlottesville this year. And while many residents may have been awoken by late-night, unofficial fireworks over the course of the holiday season, it appears even that number is on a downward trajectory.

Data compiled by Albemarle County indicates that after a brief spike during the pandemic, fewer people are shooting off fireworks. Or at least fewer people are submitting complaints.

From July 1 through 4 this year, there were 22 firework-related incidents reported, according to the county.

“That can include complaints for fireworks and complaints for shots fired that were determined to be fireworks,” Abbey Stumpf, Albemarle County spokeswoman, told The Daily Progress.

There were 24 incidents during the same period last year, according to Stumpf.

That’s on par with pre-pandemic numbers. In 2017, there were 22 incidents; in 2018, there were 23; and in 2019, there were 20.

The number of incidents peaked in 2020, when there were 30 reported incidents. There were 25 the following year.

Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook told The Daily Progress that after the holiday he received emails from residents whose sleep was interrupted by people shooting off firecrackers in the street.

But more people demanded that the city put on a fireworks show of its own.

“I got three times as many emails from people saying, ‘Why is this socialist city not supporting America? And why don’t you love our country? And we should be blowing things up,’” he said.

Those demanding a fireworks show may yearn for the years before the pandemic, when there were official firework displays in the city. While Crozet and Boar’s Head Resort have started to put on displays again, the city has not.

Snook clarified that the city never was in charge of those shows. Rather, private groups would pay for the show and City Council would decide whether or not to grant those groups permission.

“People say, ‘Why did the city stop it?’ We were never doing it,” Snook said. “If somebody wants to do it and they want to pay for it, we will issue the safety permit.”

The social disruptions caused by COVID, Snook said, were a key reason there hasn’t been a show since 2019.

But now, the only thing standing in the way of a Charlottesville fireworks show is the high price point.

“Somebody had to come up with the $50,000 or whatever it was going to take to buy the fireworks and to get insurance and all the other things that were going to have to be done,” Snook said. “The civic groups that used to do it have had trouble raising the money necessary to do it, because the costs have escalated so much.”

Tom Tolson can attest to that price spike.

The president of the Crozet Community Association helped organize and raise funds for a fireworks show in Crozet this year. He told The Daily Progress that getting a show used to be much cheaper.

“The cost has more than doubled since the pandemic,” he said, adding that supply-chain issues had led to much higher costs.

“What we think we’re getting is the same show we’ve gotten in past years but for $18,000 instead of $8,000,” Tolson said before the show on the Fourth.

It’s possible that the higher cost and the subsequent end of firework displays in Charlottesville starting in 2020 shared responsibility for the spike in recent reported firework incidents.

“It might, but I doubt it,” Snook said. “As long as you can go buy your string of firecrackers and sparklers out on 29 North there are going to be people doing that.”

Even as the city has experienced yet another July Fourth without an official show, data shows the number of reported firework incidents is on pace with pre-pandemic years. Stumpf said there were no illegal fireworks confiscated this year and only one fireworks-related injury.

Charlottesville Fire Marshal Joe Phillips’ anecdotal experience bears that out.

“It seemed to be less than we’d had in previous years, and we had no fires on the Fourth that fireworks were the cause of,” he said. “In years past, we’ve had a lot of dumpster fires, but this year we didn’t have a single one on the Fourth.”

If a fireworks show does return to the city next year, Snook and his colleagues may hear complaints of a different variety.

“There’s probably at least as many people who are aggrieved by not having fireworks as there are people who are aggrieved by having fireworks,” he said.


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