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<i>Bang!</i> Fireworks frenzy <i>Zip!</i> needs a little <i>Pop!</i> self control <i>Zap!</i>

Each year at this time, thousands of Portland-area residents celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence by exercising their inalienable right to set off small explosives in their yards and neighborhoods.

This annual onslaught of noise, smoke and general mayhem is torture to animals, pollutes the air, disturbs the peace and leads to injuries and property damage.

We admit to a long-held curmudgeonly view of fireworks. But we do believe that there is a better alternative to the nuisance and hazards posed by the individual use of fireworks. Local residents have numerous opportunities to attend, or view from afar, professional fireworks displays that will dazzle young children without causing house fires or blowing off fingers.

Organized fireworks displays - like those held at Fort Vancouver, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Oaks Park or Blue Lake Park - remove the danger from fireworks enjoyment. And such hazards are more than theoretical.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal reports that fireworks-related fires increased 17 percent in 2007 over the previous year - to a total of 331 fires statewide. Monetary damage from these blazes was more than $1.4 million.

As for injuries, nationwide the number of people hurt by fireworks approaches 10,000 each year.

The sound of these backyard explosives also has the effect of terrorizing dogs and cats. Take a trip to the Multnomah County animal shelter immediately after the Fourth of July holiday and you will see a long line of people hoping to recover pets that got lost while fleeing the noise of nearby fireworks.

The problems in Oregon wouldn't be so severe if everyone obeyed the law about what can be purchased and used in this state. Oregon law forbids anything that travels more than six feet on the ground or 12 inches into the air.

But a quick scan around your neighborhood this week will prove that the law is routinely ignored and that police do little to enforce those regulations except when it comes to the sale of fireworks.

To evade the Oregon law, thousands of people drive across the river to Washington State, where more dangerous fireworks can be purchased legally. It's against the law to bring those purchases back into Oregon, but people are doing it anyway.

We encourage Washington legislators to tighten the laws in that state, but until that happens the Portland area is at the mercy of people's commonsense.

Parents in particular ought to be careful about the messages they convey to their children. If they routinely tell their children to be safe, obey the law and be courteous to others, then why would they discard those values each year for a fireworks-crazed frenzy around the Fourth of July?