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Cheers - AE

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fireworks - next in the banners' sights? - UPDATED

Despite the distance from Westminster Australia used to celebrate Guy Fawkes night as well but these days it's fallen by the wayside, and I suspect the reason is simple: you can't buy fireworks anymore in most parts of Oz. I'd assumed that this was mostly because of the bushfire risk but I've since been told that it was also to do with idiot behaviour involving fireworks, and we all know that governments unable to deal effectively with idiots will often try instead to ban whatever it is the idiots want to play with and never mind the responsible users.

And of course firework idiocy is far from unknown in Britain. Every November for as long as I can remember there have been ad campaigns warning of the risks of handling or throwing lit fireworks, and every November there's a handful of idiots who take no notice and end up being able to count up only to nine in future. Even if you could somehow eliminate firework idiocy there are still risks involved, even at professional displays. What goes up must come down, and all those rockets exploding up there are showering the ground beneath with bits. It's inevitable that now and then some land on people or property. Mostly harmlessly, sure, but I once got up the day after Guy Fawkes night and found the stick from a large rocket a few feet from my car. Had it hit the car I expect I'd have had some bodywork damage, and had it hit a person I'm sure it would have been a nasty injury.

But such things are rare, incredibly rare given the amount of fireworks set off around Guy Fawkes night, and since most people enjoy the celebration and the fireworks and the bonfires they're prepared to accept the risks, doubtless to the dismay of the nannies and banners. To get fireworks banned there needs to be a sea change in public attitudes, and that's most likely to be achievable if something really nasty, some incident that harms a lot of people, involves fireworks.

With that in mind let's turn to the tragic multi-vehicle crash on the M5 and the speculation that a fireworks display at a nearby rugby club may have had something to do with it.
The rugby club’s “spectacular” fireworks display is being investigated to see if thick smoke drifted on to the motorway.
The cause of the crash was being investigated last night but police confirmed they were looking at the possibility that a pall of black smoke from a firework display at Taunton Rugby Club, 300 yards from the scene of the crash, may have drifted on to the motorway.
Mr Bangham said: “We are aware there was a fireworks display nearby happening at a similar time and we will also be looking closely at that and at what kind of planning was looked at ahead of that event.”
A member of the public who attended the display said: “The fireworks display was massive and caused a huge amount of thick black smoke that drifted towards the motorway less than 10 minutes before the crash. Before the display I could see right across the pitch and see the headlights of traffic on the motorway. After the display the visibility dropped to less than 30ft, I couldn’t even see the huge floodlights positioned around the pitch.”
Sam Kotvics, who was at the display, said: “I think the fireworks had a contributory effect. It was a spectacular display. Anything could have happened to cause the accident though.”
Weather forecasters said that smoke from bonfires encourages fog, especially in damp conditions.

Click for linky
Police fear the M5 disaster that claimed the lives of at least seven people may have been caused by heavy smoke drifting on to the motorway from a nearby fireworks display.
Senior officers investigating the cause of the crash, on the northbound carriageway near Junction 25, said they were focusing ‘very closely’ on a fireworks event at Taunton Rugby Club, located near the carriageway.
Forensics teams arrived at the club yesterday afternoon and sealed off several pitches.
The display at the club finished at about 8.15pm on Friday, minutes before the crash. Experts believe a lack of wind allowed intense black smoke from the finale, when the largest and most spectacular rockets were fired, to hang in the air and render visibility poor. There had already been reports of wet conditions and patchy fog.
Last night no one from Firestorm Pyrotechnics, the Somerset firm that organised the display, was available for comment.
But another fireworks company boss told The Mail on Sunday that he turned down the opportunity to stage a display at the rugby club two years ago because of concerns about safety.
‘It is a very difficult site. My concern straight away was the distance from the motorway,’ he said. ‘It makes it a very difficult site to fire from. You would look closely at the flight line [of the rockets]. Are they going to make drivers look up?’
Taunton Rugby Club secretary Oli Massingham said the organisers had liaised fully with police.
Meanwhile witnesses spoke of bonfires in other areas nearby also spreading black smoke, including one in particular at a smallholding.
As well as the smoke itself blinding drivers, one expert said it could have caused further visibility problems by encouraging fog to form.
I'm not saying the fireworks display did or did not have anything to do with it. For all I know right now it might have, but that's not what I'm getting at. My point is that almost certainly someone somewhere is secretly hoping that the investigation does end up blaming the crash largely on the display, and parts of the reporting already make it sound like some of the media is sold on the idea. "Firework fun as displays turn deadly for drivers" - it's a headline writer's wet dream, isn't it? And of course for the banners and nannies the first step to restrictions and prohibition is a scary headline or two.

As I said, I'm not trying to claim that the fireworks display is blameless as I have no idea whether it is or isn't, and I'm not going to form an opinion either way while it's still being investigated or second guess the people doing the investigating. This post isn't about trying to blame or shield from blame anything in particular. It's just making a prediction: that whatever else was involved if the fireworks display is determined to have contributed even in a small way there will be calls to restrict or even ban fireworks, and even if the club's display is exonerated there will still be calls for at least tougher regulations.

And I haven't even looked at The Daily Mail comments section yet.

UPDATED - five minutes after finishing the post I've just looked at the comments at the Mail, and while they're in the minority just as I predicted...
With all the controversy about cutting pollution from things like industry and car emissions we should now be banning bonfires . If fireworks are going to be allowed then it should only be in a properly managed display and away from any major road or built up area...
Are there any regulations covering bonfire and firework displays near motorways and main roads? I was travelling on the M61 near Bolton a couple of years ago on bonfire night and suddenly drove into thick black smoke, which meant I couldn't see 10 yards in front of me and when this happens to you whilst travelling at 70-80 mph it is incredibly disorientating and frightening. Once through the smoke (I thought it was better to carry on rather than just stop) I pulled over onto the hard shoulder. I realised that the smoke was coming from a bonfire in a field less than 100 yards from the carriageway, at a pub adjacent to the motorway. I rang 999 to report it, it was incredibly dangerous. The organisers of that bonfire were incredibly irresponsible and should never have been allowed to set a bonfire that close to the motorway. If there aren't any regulations then there need to be before this happens all over again next year.
Time all fireworks were banned, they cause untold harm.
Completely possible. Bonfire night/fireworks are the worst offenders of filling the atmosphere full of smoke. I remember driving this time last year and I could not see a thing, it was like driving with a fogged up window. Especially with the fireworks display being so close to the motorway, it would explain why the 'fog' had cleared up by the time emergency services arrived. It doesn't help with the wet floor and speeds of a motorway, even if all of the vehicles were obeying the speed limit. The fog probably came out of nowhere/was unexpected.
And over at the Tele:
I have listened to the radio media and I hope there is a law against holding a firework display next to a motorway. Clearly the reason for the crash may never be known. However a distraction on a wet dark motorway by a firework for less than five seconds is enough to cause this course of tragic events...
It might have been better if health and safety jobsworths spent less time stopping kids playing conkers and more time giving serious consideration to issues like a firework display next to a motorway...
Obviously the fireworks were a distraction and the smoke reduced visibility. It was a bad idea to have a display like that at the side of a motorway. I noted on the way home, there was strange dense patches of fog around Mid Devon.
Again, a minority (most commenters there seemed to be into the Afghanistan comparison), but you can expect the same things are being said by people with the ear of those with the clout to do something. Don't be surprised if the question of a fireworks ban or tougher regulation pops up in Parliament over the coming weeks.
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