Each summer thousands make the trek to Boom City — the one-stop fireworks expo at the Tulalip Indian Reservation — trying to score the best deals from the camp of vendors who hawk their pyrotechnics in the three-week lead-up to the Fourth of July.
TULALIP INDIAN RESERVATION — “Come check these out,” Monty Hall called to a middle-aged man meandering through the maze of wooden booths at Boom City.
The longtime fireworks vendor, who adopted his name after the host of the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” dangled a pack of Roman candles over the ledge of his booth. “I’ve got all the fireworks you’ve ever wanted.”
The man approached and Hall grinned and crossed his arms, gearing up for a potential sale. Hundreds of boxes of brightly wrapped fireworks — from cakes to sparklers to fountains — were stacked behind him. “Now what can I get you?”
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Hall is one of 134 tribal fireworks vendors who have set up shop at Boom City, the annual one-stop fireworks expo housed on a gravelly lot at the Tulalip Indian Reservation.
Thousands make the trek to Boom City each summer, trying to score the best deals from the camp of vendors who hawk their pyrotechnics in the three-week lead-up to the Fourth of July.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office and communities throughout Washington may be discouraging personal fireworks use, but you wouldn’t know it at Boom City. Here, the personal fireworks business is literally booming.
“The more cities ban fireworks, the more the people come,” said Karen Fryberg, a Boom City vendor who has been selling fireworks for more than two decades. “It’s just more publicity for us.”
Last year, 414 fires and 162 injuries caused by fireworks were reported to the Fire Marshal’s Office. In King County alone, legal and illegal fireworks caused 90 fires, 17 injuries and one death in 2010, according to the Fire Marshal’s Office.
As a result, many cities are on a crusade against personal fireworks use, urging residents to leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals.
People like Chanda Dorsey, who has been coming to Boom City for the past 14 years, understand the cities’ concerns, but still want to put on their own shows.
“We wanted something to make the kids go ‘ooh’ and ‘aah,’ ” said Dorsey, a Seattle real-estate agent, nodding to the $500 worth of sparklers, nighttime displays and assorted pyrotechnics she was loading into her trunk. “It’s fun to get together and put on a show for the kids.”
Fireworks are a policing nightmare for local law-enforcement agencies, who try to quash the smuggling of illegal fireworks from Boom City.
Firecrackers, bottle rockets, sky rockets, chasers, missiles and rockets — ground fireworks that contain more than 50 milligrams of explosives or aerial devices that contain more than 130 milligrams of explosives — may all be exploded on tribal lands, but are illegal off the reservation.
The Tulalip Indian Reservation is sovereign tribal land, answerable only to the federal government. That means fireworks that are illegal under state law are legal on the reservation, as long as they don’t violate federal guidelines.
Joe Zackuse, who owns the fireworks stand “Porno for Pyros,” says that Boom City used to be the “wild, wild West” when it came to selling illicit fireworks, but that police have ratcheted up enforcement. Vendors are wary of what they sell, fearing sting operations by undercover cops, Zackuse said.
In 2009, investigators busted a Boom City vendor for selling thousands of dollars worth of explosive devices illegal under federal law, including tennis-ball bombs, M-500 explosives and single-shot launch tubes overflowing with explosive powder.
Vendors this year aren’t taking chances, said the owner of the Boom City stand “We Got the Hookup.”
“It ain’t worth the felony,” he said.
But police say that the biggest problem is not Boom City vendors obeying federal law but people smuggling fireworks that are illegal in Washington off the reservation.
Local police can only confiscate fireworks that are banned under state law if they see them in a car that has been stopped for a traffic violation, or if they see people exploding illegal fireworks off the reservation.
There is a “detonation area” on Boom City where the tribe encourages customers to light their fireworks, but most people prefer to ignite only a few of their purchases there and take the rest home, Fryberg said.
Amy Harris: 206-464-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org