Around 9pm we decided it was time to start lighting some fireworks. Last year we had gone to Washington to get some good firework since everything legal in Oregon is pretty lame. We had quite a few left over from last year so we decided to light them off. We were responsible adults and got our bucket of safety water ready. We lit off fireworks for probably an hour and half before things started to wind down.
Needless to say we weren't prepared for what happened next. A firework was lit off the moved horizontally just above the pavement and into my neighbor's arbor vitae bushes. Arbor vitae bushes are very dry on the inside, and green on the outside. The bush immediately lit on fire and we ran across the street with our bucket of water. Unfortunately it wasn't enough and the bush started to burn rather quickly. We got my garden hose and stretched it across the street but the fire was spreading to quickly.
Angie ran inside to call 911 and get the fire department here. We continued to spray what we could with my garden hose. By this time the fire was quite big. The bushes were probably 15 feet high, and the section that was on fire was probably eight or ten feet wide. At that point I told Ben to get the garden hose from behind my house to hook up to the neighbors outlet and spray the fire from the other side. About this time several neighbors showed up, as well as the cops. We continued to focus on spraying the fire until about three minutes later when the fire department arrived.
The fire department told us all to back away and the started to spray the bush and had the fire out in less than thirty seconds I'd guess. At that point I had a chance to speak to the police. I wanted to make the effort as the home owner to take responsibility for what happened. They proceeded to grill me about “illegal fireworks.” I told them that we were lighting illegal fireworks, but I didn't believe that started the fire. I was sitting 25 feet away when the fire started so I wasn't sure exactly what happened. It was very dark and stopping to take inventory of what happened and who did what weren't real important when the bushes were going up.
The cops proceeded to interrogate the five of us who stayed outside to fight the fire. I told them the truth that it was an accident, and that yes we were lighting illegal fireworks while they bounced between the five of us trying to get the whole story. In the end five of us ended up getting charged with “possession of illegal fireworks”, and Jason got also got charged with “reckless burning.” Jason got the extra charge because he admitted to lighting the firework. Jason even said the cop was almost forced to charge him with arson, but ended up not after looking it up specifically in the manual. We got extremely lucky that there was no property damage (other than the bushes) and that no one got hurt. I think we got real lucky in that respect.
I've never had any run-ins with the police, so this was totally new and intimidating. They took all my vital information about three times when they were charging us. We were all put under arrest, but that was just a formality. No one went to jail, no one ended up in the back of a cop car it was purely paperwork and fines. In the end we were each charged $2500 for the possession, and Jason was charged $7500 for the reckless burn. Due to some weirdness in our law system we're only liable for one tenth of that ($250/$750) as I guess the full amount is only used if we skip town and they need to issue a warrant. Both of those charges are misdemeanors and could potentially go on our records. The cop assured me that it was up to the judge, and that the judge wasn't interested in ruing the lives of otherwise law abiding citizens. My concern was that the charges would show up if one of us applied for a job. That would seem rather unfair considering it was an honest mistake, and we did our best to respond to the situation.
I get the impression that $250 is negotiable also, and we'll see what happens on our court date. The cop mentioned that if we make right with the home owner of the bushes that we may be able to plead down the reckless burn as well. Our court date is set for August 5th so time will tell exactly how much we'll end up paying. The group of us all stuck together and agreed to split the total cost of whatever fines we incur between all of us.
So the next step is to contact the homeowner who is in Nevada and make right the burned bushes. I'm not sure what the status of the bushes are because 80% of them are still quite green. I'm pretty comfortable with the neighbor, we have a good relationship so I'm sure we'll be able to meet some equitable solution. I've been thinking about it all day and while it was a terrible situation I've come to terms with it and I'm just ready to do what needs to be done to put it behind all of us.
An honest mistake was made, we responded to the best of our ability, and we took responsibility for what happened. I have confidence that things will work out for the best. I think if we can get things squared away with the bushes to the point my neighbor is happy I think that will go a long way to convincing the judge that we're not arsonist hoodlums.
So that was my Fourth of July in a nutshell. Craziest Fourth I've ever had.