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The show must go on: Fireworks still expected in neighborhoods despite event cancellations
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The show must go on: Fireworks still expected in neighborhoods despite event cancellations

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Debbie Walvatne has been standing behind the fireworks booth in the parking lot of Safeway in Sweet Home every July for the last three years. 

As COVID-19 shut down traditional community displays and social distancing requirements made neighborhood get-togethers unlikely, the industry braced for the uncertainty of the season. 

But on Wednesday, two days into a seven-day stretch, Walvatne's booth (which funds the Sweet Home Singing Christmas Tree) had already surpassed its average yearly revenue total. 

"We're seeing an increase from last year. We have had at least double the customers," she said. "We usual raise close to $3,000, and we're already close to that today."

In Oregon, residents can purchase fireworks that do not shoot up into the sky for home use, and sparklers and bottle rockets have been a staple of some Fourth of July celebrations for years. 

But with the majority of community-sponsored fireworks shows canceled due to COVID-19, does it mean neighborhoods will see an increase in the rumbles and bangs that accompany home use fireworks this Fourth of July?

"I think there will be an increased number of folks setting off fireworks privately," said Lora Ratcliff, a fire marshal with the Albany Fire Department. "But due to self-imposed restrictions, I think folks will be buying local, legal fireworks from their neighborhood fireworks retailer."

In Sweet Home, the fireworks don't usually light up the sky until the weekend after the Fourth of July and are the main attraction for the Sportsman's Holiday celebration. But due to the uncertainty surrounding social distancing mandates, the local fire department opted not to order fireworks for the show and the celebration was scaled down drastically, cutting the fireworks show out completely. 

The Sweet Home Fire District says it doesn't expect additional calls or fireworks activity this coming weekend but points to the timing as the culprit. Fireworks traditionally happen in the city the following week. 

The Albany Fire Department announced that it would be working with the local police department as well as the Linn County Sheriff's Office to field calls related to illegal fireworks. 

"If illegal fireworks are present, Albany Fire Department will be confiscating them," a statement released by AFD said. "APD and LCSO can and may cite individuals. "

The department also offered safety tips, such as a reminder to never relight unburnt fireworks and to keep a bucket of water or a charged garden hose at the ready. 

AFD also asked that residents be courteous of their neighbors. 

"Lighting fireworks late at night can cause unnecessary strain on your relationship with your neighbors and community," the statement said, adding that social distancing rules are still in place and a mask is recommended if a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained. 

"We have had people here who have never been to the stand," Walvtne said of this year's fireworks customers and the increase the stand has seen. 

In the mid-valley as a whole, however, Ratcliff said sales haven't shown the same sort of increase this year.

"Fireworks sales have been going on since June 23," she said. "A few retailers have reported that they have had typical sales thus far." 

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