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Published: Friday, 7/1/2011

5,000-pound cache of fireworks seized

Homeowner set off large private shows

BY ZOE GORMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fireworks seized from a Claybourne Avenue home, shown in a photo from the State Fire Marshal's Office, are stacked neatly on shelves in the garage, where authorities say the homeowner sold pyrotechnics. Fireworks seized from a Claybourne Avenue home, shown in a photo from the State Fire Marshal's Office, are stacked neatly on shelves in the garage, where authorities say the homeowner sold pyrotechnics.
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A firework enthusiast's annual Independence Day show has ended in a bust -- not a boom.

A tip directed attention to one of the biggest private fireworks shows in town, and authorities Thursday confiscated more than 5,000 pounds of  fireworks from a Claybourne Drive residence with a dozen American flags on its front lawn.

The fireworks, some of which were modified or homemade, represent a third of what the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office normally confiscates in a year-- 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks, according to a 2010 research report.

"We celebrate our independence. They've got to make an example," said the man who owned the fireworks, who had not been charged and who would not give his name. Investigators also are not releasing names pending possible charges.

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received information last week that someone was selling fireworks from the residence and made an undercover purchase. After obtaining a search warrant, Toledo police and the Toledo Fire Investigation Unit entered the home and seized the explosives, which authorities say were displayed on shelves.

The Ohio Department of Commerce said the fireworks were seized without incident.

Authorities at the scene would not comment, but in a release, said that the proximity of the home to a school -- Byrnedale Junior High School -- played a role in the seriousness of the incident.

"This amount of improperly stored explosive material in a residential neighborhood near a school is not only illegal, it is extremely dangerous to the residents, the neighbors, and the first responders," State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said in the release. "One spark could have caused tragedy in this neighborhood."

Shane Cartmill, spokesman for the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office, said the homeowner could be charged with possession of illegal fireworks or sales of fireworks, misdemeanor charges that normally come with fines and jail terms, but that can range upward into the felony level.

"It's important to catalog and see what's there, and do a full inventory," Mr. Cartmill said. "Then we will discuss with the prosecutor's office the possible charges."

He said investigators wouldn't be able to place a value on the fireworks until then.

The homeowner said neighbors have enjoyed his family's firework shows, and some even offer to pay him to watch.

He said that six years ago, 2,000 people came to watch his show in Highland Park.

The police came to control crowds but did not confiscate the fireworks, he said.

Under Ohio law, Ohio residents over the age of 18 can buy fireworks from a licensed vendor as long as the fireworks are transported outside the state within 48 hours.

Display and exhibitor fireworks require additional licenses, while novelty fireworks such as sparklers, snaps, glow snakes, and smoke bombs are not regulated.

Anything that shoots high into the air or makes a lot of noise, such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and fountains, is regulated.

The owner said he had bought his fireworks from stores "all over," and that he never had issues with regards to how many explosives he wanted to buy.

Neighbors had mixed reactions to the firework show.

"I've kind of enjoyed it myself," said Neil George, who has lived in the area for more than five decades. Mr. George said the family has been setting off fireworks for the past 10 years or so.

But another neighbor said she was disturbed by the fireworks going off all weekend when she was trying to sleep.

Police interviewed the owner Thursday at his home. He said they had talked to him for 25 minutes before giving him his Miranda rights but had otherwise been "cool."

The investigation is being conducted by the Division of State Fire Marshal, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Toledo police and fire departments.

Contact Zoe Gorman at: zgorman@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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