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Date of Issue: July 09, 2008

Holiday pops for some, sizzles for others

Light fantastic
Fireworks explode over the beach in Bradenton Beach near the BeachHouse Restaurant, which sponsored the July 3 display. A traditional July 4 fireworks display did not take place on the Island due to safety concerns from officials about the use of illegal fireworks on the beaches. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
Fireworks flower in the sky in Bradenton Beach.
Lucas, 8, and Ian MacLeod, 10, of Bradenton, climb over rocks near the BeachHouse Restaurant to reach the shore and await the July 3 fireworks show.

The crowd oohed and ahhed as the fireworks lit the sky on Independence Eve in Bradenton Beach.

Occasionally there were ughs and grrs in the midst of the celebration, as law enforcement officers asked holiday revelers to turn over bottle rockets and suggested they simply enjoy the public extravaganza presented by the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach.

The July 4 holiday, annually observed with lots of traditions in the United States, was commemorated differently on Anna Maria Island this year, as well as in a number of other U.S. locales.

Public fireworks displays in municipalities across the country were canceled for various reasons - cash-strapped governments, caution over the potential for wildfires, shortages of fireworks from China and concerns for the use of illegal fireworks in the midst of large crowds.

The latter prompted the cancellation of the public July 4 fireworks display in Anna Maria. The Sandbar Restaurant traditionally treats beachgoers to the show, but canceled this year’s event at the request of Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford.

Barford also spearheaded the creation of an Island task force to deal with illegal fireworks usage after a firecracker injured a man last year.

The task force met for nearly a year, developing a public service campaign highlighting the differences between legal and illegal fireworks and a plan to confiscate fireworks that are illegal. Florida law allows hand-held or ground-based sparkler-type fireworks, but not fireworks that go boom or are propelled into the air.

Teams of law enforcement personnel from the three Island cities, including the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and officers from Longboat Key, policed the beaches for illegal fireworks usage during the holiday. Materials - M80s, cherry bombs, roman candles, DayGlo bombs and bottle rockets - were confiscated. A news release said the contraband would be turned over at Holmes Beach Police Department, where the MCSO bomb squad would collect it for disposal.

On the shore in Bradenton Beach, lots of legal sparklers and ground-based fireworks went off as people awaited total darkness and the BeachHouse Restaurant fireworks show.

Occasionally somewhere along the length of the beach a bottle rocket would shoot into the air, but the pops before the big permitted show were few.

“I think most people got the message not to bring them to the beach,” said Amanda Kirby of Bradenton. “We left ours at home. So we’ll have them for tomorrow.”

Several teenagers with pockets full of firecrackers set off a few into a crowd near the BeachHouse, but under the glare of other holiday celebrants they sat quietly for the rest of the evening.

“I think firecrackers are fun, but I understand that they can be dangerous in crowds,” said William Tate, 12, of Sarasota. He attended the BeachHouse display with his family and brought along a paper sack stuffed with sparklers and other permissible July 4 fireworks.

His mother, Diana Tate, said, “It’s a beautiful evening - gorgeous sunset and now the fireworks. I just love coming out here to the Island for this.”

The Island crackdown on fireworks did not occur in isolation. Other communities in Florida canceled fireworks shows this year and law enforcement agencies organized crackdowns on the use of personal fireworks.

Officials in other states also acted to discourage illegal fireworks use.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged people not to patronize roadside stands this year for fear of fireworks - even legal sparklers - escalating the wildfire situation there.

Also, in drought-stricken Texas, at least four counties issued emergency declarations prohibiting the sale of fireworks.