For District firefighters this Fourth of July, the moment of truth arrived at 9:30 p.m. as a whirlwind of fire activity spread over the city. The ensuing hour was hell.
It's this kind of thing that starts fires. Note: Not in D.C., amazingly enough.
For D.C. firefighters this July Fourth, the moment of truth arrived at 9:30 p.m. as a whirlwind of fire activity spread over the city. Emergency responders raced to confront 60 calls in the following hour – that’s one call every minute – most for hot spots sparked by Roman-Candle-and-mortar-shell-lugging revelers with lots of Independence Day enthusiasm but really sucky aim.
The District loves its DIY fireworks, perhaps more than any other East Coast burg. Firefighters were snuffing out blazes as early as 11 a.m. yesterday. In Petworth, people got M-80s with their morning coffees and their nightcaps. This is despite an aggressive attempt this year by fire investigators and cops to disrupt the sale of illegal fireworks. “There were about 90 certified or authorized fireworks stands throughout the city, and a couple illegal ones that were shut down,” says Pete Piringer, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. “I think that made the streets a little safer this year.”
The self-bombing of D.C. is an annual tradition that stretches back to the city’s toddler years. One notable and gruesome fireworks accident popped off in July 1845 during the presidency of James Polk. Here’s an account what happened, published in the Gettysburg Adams Sentinel and transcribed by GenDisaster’s Stu Beitler:
SPLENDID FIREWORKS AT THE PRESIDENT'S. AWFUL ACCIDENT.
Washington, July 4, 10 o'clock, P.M.
Mr. Harper: -- I have just returned from the scene of a sudden and terrible accident, and have seated myself, full of intense excitement, to give you a hasty sketch of it.
The interesting exercises of this memorable day were closed this evening by a most magnificent exhibition of fireworks at the rear of the President's House. The whole grounds and the large green between the House and the place where the works were situated, were crowded with all the fashion and gayety of the city. Thousands thronged the vast area around. While the fireworks, which were truly splendid, were in the midst of their progress, by some mismanagement or carelessness, several large rockets, instead of rising into the air, as was intended, were thrown out of their course and into the centre of the mass of people around.
One of them came, with a terrible force, against the wall in the rear of the Presidential mansion, on which were seated and standing an immense crowd, and buried itself in the body of one man, burning several others slightly. The explosion, the crash of the rocket, the instantaneous death of the man, and the sudden rushing back of the people from the burning sparks, were the work of a moment. From gayety, pleasure and enjoyment, all was, at once, changed into confusion, terror and distress. Whether or not others have been killed, I cannot say certainly, as I have hastened, with the rest of the spectators, from the place; but from the path of the rocket, before it reached the wall, which was through a large crowd, I think it but too probable, that it has done much more injury.
10 1/2 o'clock. P.S. Besides the man killed, whose name is KNOWLES, a carpenter, I have just heard that one woman was very badly, probably mortally, wounded, and a man had his arm badly lacerated, by name M'GEE, baker, besides several others somewhat hurt. I write in great haste, and uncertainty as to the actual amount of injury done. The dead and wounded were carried, at once, into the President's House.
All is excitement and alarm.
Your's truly, H.E.N.