The 4th of July weekend was a nightmare for Ashley Howlett who lives in the Skyland neighborhood of North Denver. Instead of enjoying warm summer weather outside with her dog, Bowie, she spent days unable to sleep, having to calm her dog, and listening to illegal fireworks that made her neighborhood sound like it was being bombed.
Despite an all out ban on fireworks in the city and county of Denver due to the fire risk in the drought ridden climate of Colorado, people like Ashley are living in neighborhoods bombarded by dangerous fireworks use day in and out..
“They go off all day from 9 in the morning till 1 in the morning,” Howlett said, “If it was only happening one day, I could tolerate it, but it’s the constant going off that makes me crazy.”
Howlett says that the fireworks use started around April in her Skyland neighborhood, and as the weather became warmer, it became more and more frequent. Howlett says she is not against fireworks use if it comes from public shows. Her concern lies with fireworks in the hands of amateurs, lit off in neighborhoods where they are unsafe and banned.
“My biggest fear is fire danger, the threat of fireworks burning down my car or burning down my house,” Howlett said.
Howlett has had numerous close calls with fireworks in her neighborhood that could have turned out dangerous. “One night, I was turning the corner, and I was probably two inches from having a firework blow up on my car,” Howlett said. “I’ve had sparks fly from fireworks into my yard.”
Bucket List reached out to the Denver Police Department about why there seems to be little enforcement of illegal fireworks in Denver. Douglas Schepman, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, explained that all calls for service fall into categories of priority, violent crimes being a priority 1 and firework complaints being a priority 7.
Schepman cited a recent case where the police seized over 10,000 pounds of illegal fireworks that were being sold out of a residence in Northwest Denver. While this kept illicit fireworks off the streets, between July 15th and July 6th, the DPD issued only one citation for fireworks, despite receiving 2,052 complaints during this time period.
“We certainly understand residents’ frustration and concern due to the illegal use of fireworks. We share in those concerns,” Schepman said. “This is why we make efforts in advance of the holiday, through social media and traditional media, to educate residents on the law and to discourage the illegal use of fireworks.”
“One of my biggest frustrations right now is that there doesn’t seem to be any law enforcement on it whatsoever,” Howlett said.
She described an incident in which an entire block in her neighborhood was blocked off by people having a party and lighting fireworks in the street for several hours. Howlett said a neighbor called the police and the fireworks continued after the officers had left.
Kellie Podkonjak lives in the City Park area, and described chaos in her neighborhood from the ear-splitting noise caused by excessive firework use. “I like fireworks; it’s just my dogs can no longer handle it when the windows are vibrating for two months straight,” Kellie said.
Podkonjak repeatedly sought help from a fireworks hotline set up by the Denver Police to be able to respond to fireworks complaints and reports of illegal fireworks. She became upset after multiple calls to the hotline were unanswered. Podkonjak eventually got in touch with an officer who told her that he was not even aware that there was a fireworks hotline.
While the low priority of firework calls makes it rare for the police to enforce citations, Podkonjak’s issue with the fireworks could have escalated to a priority 1 call after she was threatened with violence when asking people if they could stop lighting the illegal fireworks off. This occurred well after July 4th, but the thunderous roar of the fireworks continued.
“I feel like the police feel like it’s a low bar issue, they don’t think they have to get involved,” Podkonjak said. “However, now I have been threatened to be beaten up over this.”
Fireworks also cause problems for dogs and dog owners, who feel that they cannot help their stressed out pets from the loud booming noise. Dogs’ ears are much more sensitive to sound than humans and can get easily panicked by the banging noise of fireworks. Sadly, this results in a higher rate of dogs being lost during the 4th of July holiday.
“I can’t even take my dog to the dog park anymore because he is afraid due to the fireworks always being set off,” Howlett said.
Howlett feels hopeless about the problem and believes the fireworks ban should be revamped because warnings and citations when issued, are not a strong enough deterrent. She has reached out to neighbors to possibly brainstorm on how to resolve the fireworks problem. Howlett wishes there was a way to solve this that can build community through dialogue.
“If I knew it was just going to be on certain days that fireworks are going off in the neighborhood, I can rearrange my life for that, but when it’s constant all the time, you just can’t,” Howlett said.