“The worst year ever.”
That’s how people in Wheeling are describing this year’s fourth of July.
People’s complaints weren’t about the city’s fireworks. They were about amateur backyard fireworks that kept them awake long past midnight and could have caught their homes on fire.
All over Wheeling, people apparently didn’t realize that just because it’s legal to buy large fireworks doesn’t mean it’s legal to shoot them off within the city limits,
“I asked them to respectfully consider the neighbors,” said Councilman Brian Wilson,referring to people setting off fireworks on his street. “It was getting late. Their fireworks were excessive. They told me that they do this every year. It’s a tradition, They asked who am I to stop them when a policeman just drove by and didn’t ask them to stop.”
“I think the police department was completely overwhelmed on the 4th of July,” noted Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman. “People everywhere were calling in, saying there were fireworks being shot off illegally.”
An ordinance on the books in Wheeling for 36 years prohibits any fireworks that are propelled into the air in the city limits.
“I think part of the problem is a few years ago the state expanded the type of fireworks that can be sold or bought in the State of West Virginia,” explained Thalman. “So I think that sends a confusing message to people.”
“We’re seeing tents popping up in the city limits, selling these things,” said Wilson. “So people believe that because you can buy them here, you can set them off here, and that’s not the case.”
In East Wheeling, the spent fireworks got tossed into a dumpster, which later burst into flames.
“It was fully engulfed,” said Wilson. “It melted the plastic lid. There were flames coming out of it, There were fireworks shooting out of it.”
In a neighborhood with historic homes and ornate woodwork, it was a hazard.
“It’s 150-year-old wood that’s ready to combust,” Wilson said.
“I was worried that my building would catch on fire and if that happened, it would take out a whole block,” said another East Wheeling man who declined to be identified.
City Council now wants to revisit their fireworks ordinance, to see if they can add some teeth to it.
“We need to make sure that what we have on the books is an enforceable ordinance,” Wilson said.
Chad Thalman said there are elaborate public fireworks displays at Wheeling’s Heritage Port, at Patterson Field in Elm Grove and at Oglebay Park.
He said you just can’t set them off in your back yard.
People complained that many backyard fireworks continued past midnight, keeping them awake and agitating pets.
Officials say if you want to take your fireworks out to a rural area, it’s fine as long as it’s all right with the property owner, just not in the city limits.