Fire in the sky

It is easy to understand the appeal of fireworks.

They explode in showers of vibrant colour, lighting up the night sky in spectacular style, bringing communities together in choruses of "ooh'' and "aah'' as eyes crane upwards and hearts pump with excitement.

They are a lot of fun, basically.

They can also cause serious injury and damage. They are a major fire risk, and the bane of Fire and Emergency New Zealand staff's lives, if only on a handful of nights a year. They are an absolute nightmare for pet owners. And they are a confronting noise hazard likened by some to the sounds of a minor military invasion.

That is why, for every person who still thrills at the sight and sound and smell of a public or private fireworks display, there are half a dozen quite keen to "ban the boom'', and why the topic of a full ban on private fireworks sales is regularly discussed.

Some feel we are getting closer to a happy middle ground when it comes to fireworks in this country.

The sale of fireworks for private use is limited by age and to a four-day period in early November. There are restrictions on the type of fireworks that may be purchased - gone are the days when giddy teenagers (and older folk with a taste for fire) could loose off sky rockets, banned here since the mid-1990s. Public displays are held around the country, staged under controlled conditions.

Plenty argue that the logical next step is to ban private sales and keep fireworks limited strictly to major public events.

However, politicians do not seem to have the appetite for that - and multiple governments have debated the issue.

Perhaps this will be a problem that solves itself before long. For demand for fireworks is clearly waning. Many outlets - including the major supermarket chains - have taken them off the shelves. Anecdotally, fewer neighbourhoods are being beset by the bloke next door "lighting the blue touch paper and retiring''. Even the teenagers seem to be getting their kicks in other places.

Fenz and the SPCA have made their respective stances on private fireworks use loud and clear. Earlier this, year, a remit proposing a ban got 64% support at Local Government New Zealand's conference. Perhaps momentum is building again, and New Zealand will finally emulate Australia, where almost all states banned private fireworks sales back in the 1980s.

Until that point, all we can do is remind people to be safe and think of others.


Over the ages since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament with King James inside it, fireworks have changed meaning. At first they celebrated defeating an assasination, later they came to representing an imaginary attack at corrupt governments, then becoming an excuse at doing acts of civil disobedience, until finally they are now panned as nuisances. The evolution/ devolution of the meaning of 5th of November.

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