July 4th is still more than a week away. But in neighborhoods across Minneapolis, fireworks have been going off all month — with raucous, illicit displays often stretching into the early morning hours, night after night.
Residents of cities across the country have been reporting unusual amounts of fireworks. From New York City to Denver to Los Angeles, many say the evenings filled with brightly colored explosions seem to have started earlier than in past summers.
For Jeanne Torma, fireworks have been a nightly occurrence since May, primarily to the west of her home in the Near North neighborhood. She said she is hearing thunderous booms, not little fizzles.
“They’re huge, a lot of them are pretty big and a lot of the time they go off one after the other,” Torma said. “It just feels like it’s very different this summer.”
Only three types of fireworks are legal in Minnesota: sparklers, cones and tubes that emit sparks, and novelties like party poppers or snakes. Anything that flies or explodes is not permitted, according to the State Fire Marshal’s website.
There were 291 fireworks complaints reported to Minneapolis 311 in the first three weeks of June — a 30-fold increase over the same period last year — with the bulk of the reports coming from south Minneapolis and the North Side, according to data compiled by the city. Before March 2019, 311 did not specifically track fireworks complaints.
Neighbors have taken to Twitter, Reddit and Nextdoor to vent their frustrations about the noise that often continues well into the morning, without regard for disrupted sleep, pets or those with PTSD. Numerous social media users have floated theories that the nightly barrages are related to the unrest following the killing of George Floyd — nationwide coordinated psychological attacks by police, white supremacists or antifa activists. However, little evidence has surfaced to support claims of any organized effort.
Regardless of the source of the firecrackers, just about everyone agrees this is not normal.
“It is truly unusual for our neighborhood,” said Janine Munson. A resident of St. Anthony West in northeast Minneapolis, Munson has heard loud fireworks nightly since Juneteenth, the June 19 celebration of the end of slavery. “This has really disrupted the peace,” she said.
Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder said police prioritize fireworks calls that threaten life or property. He noted that the fireworks are widespread outside the city limits, too, in both suburban and rural areas.
“This is not just a Minneapolis thing,” he said.
Explaining the recent spike in activity may not require a conspiracy. Fireworks retailers are reporting increased sales compared with previous years, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, an industry trade group.
“Memorial Day, kind of the beginning of summer, is where we saw an uptick in sales. It’s just gone gangbusters since then,” Heckman said. “We see that continuing right through the Fourth of July.”
In Prescott, Wis., less than an hour from downtown Minneapolis, business is booming at Victory Fireworks. Late Tuesday afternoon, store manager Tanner DeGross said he had a line of customers.
“We are seemingly busier than normal,” DeGross said. “About twice as busy as what I’ve planned for. … We saw absolute madness going around in here.”
DeGross said he thinks the uptick in sales is probably due to cancellations of graduation and July 4th celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People [are] sitting at home bored, looking to blow off steam,” he said. “So, literally blowing off steam.”
Wisconsin requires buyers to purchase a $3 permit, which allows them to possess and transport a wide array of fireworks. Still, many remain illegal to use outside of designated areas without a separate permit issued by a local official — though enforcement is often lax.
About 90% of Victory’s customer base comes from Minnesota, DeGross estimated.
Heckman said she can’t be sure why fireworks are flying off the shelves, but she agreed COVID-19 is probably a big part of it.
“People have been locked down for 3½ months with nothing to do,” she said. “The weather got nice and people are looking for some form of entertainment.”
Fireworks were unusually prevalent last weekend in Downtown West — an area where such spectacles aren’t typical, said resident Michelle Schulp.
“It was prolonged and very bad on Saturday night,” Schulp said, adding that she was kept up until around 4 a.m. Sunday. “Everywhere in the summer some people light off some fireworks; it’s just normal. But this was extremely loud, extremely large and went on in intervals over the span of four hours.”
In the morning, Schulp walked over to the parking lot next door and found tubes for launching mortars, a powerful type of artillery shell firework.
“These were big and loud, similar to the kind of stuff you’d see on the Fourth of July, professionally,” Schulp said.
It is unlikely the displays seen in videos from cities nationwide are pro-quality fireworks, Heckman said.
“I believe that in some of the cities where we’re seeing this, it is consumer firework aerial devices which will burst just under 200 feet in the air,” Heckman said. “They’re a mini-version of what the professionals use.”
Whoever is to blame, Munson hopes her St. Anthony West neighborhood will soon return to normal. She and her husband are avid gardeners and typically spend summer nights outside chatting,
“We really are unable to focus on anything other than the noise it is creating,” Munson said of the firecrackers. Their blind basset hound Cleopatra is not fazed by the sounds, she said. But Molly, the dog they lost in November, would be having a tough time.
“She was always stressed by that noise,” Munson said.