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Uncle Sam Jam, 7.3

Fireworks light up the sky over Oak Lake Park to finish off the annual Uncle Sam Jam celebration Wednesday.

For some Lincoln residents, the Fourth of July is a time to get out of town and leave the place to those who love the noise. 

They leave to protect their animals and themselves from the quantity of fireworks, but also the loudness of the explosions from illegal fireworks.

From Monday to about 9 a.m. Wednesday, Lincoln police reported 53 fireworks complaints. LPD Capt. Bob Farber said people complained 56 times alone during a 24-hour period Wednesday.

A woman called Thursday to say something that looked like a grenade was lying on the corner, and she wanted someone to check it. Police went to the 24th and C streets location. It was a firework. 

And then there are the more serious incidents that involve injuries. 

On Wednesday night, a 65-year-old man was treated at a local hospital for non-life- threatening burns to his arm and chest because an artillery-shell tipped over and struck him while he was watching from a driveway. 

Many of the complaints, Farber said, are about illegal fireworks or people lighting legal fireworks that complainers say are in inappropriate places.

Some believe it's better just to leave town than tolerate the noise or complain.

Jill Morstad, who trains dogs for Prairie Skies Dog Training, is one of those who escapes with her dogs. This week, she was in South Dakota, where in Sioux Falls, fireworks that make noise or have a projectile or launching device are illegal.

"I give up," she said. "In our central Lincoln neighborhood, it starts early and ends late and seems to be all about making the noise."

Some who stick around medicate their dogs, almost into unconsciousness, according to Morstad, just to get through the holiday. Some dogs are noise-sensitive, because of genetics or aging, which makes them more apprehensive. 

She has Belgian shepherds, one a 14-year-old that becomes anxious, trembles and pants, and cannot be soothed, she said. She prefers not to give them prescription drugs.

There's a small-but-vocal minority, she said, who want people to celebrate and have fun, but not at the expense of those who are hidden inside and can't sleep or relax.

Sam Rap, who lives in the Havelock neighborhood, left town a couple of days ago.

As the years go by, she said, the noise gets worse and numbers increase. And it goes on way before and way after the Fourth.

"It seems more like dynamite going off than fireworks," Rap said.

The noise hurts veterans who have PTSD, she said. 

"The city needs to get a better grip on it," she said. "Celebrating Independence Day is fine, but everybody and their brother shouldn't have to. It should just be a city thing for one day."

Even though they don't allow fireworks to be sold or discharged except on July 3 and July 4, many communities around Lincoln sell them. And that makes it harder to control.

She'd like to see more limits put on other communities. And in Lincoln, more people ticketed, she said.

But the police are on more than fireworks patrol. On Wednesday alone, Farber said, there were 404 calls for service, of which 112 were disturbance calls and half of those were about fireworks.

When police go to a complaint about loud or illegal fireworks, he said, it can be challenging to find who in a neighborhood is lighting those illegal ones, including M80s. You almost have to catch people in the act, or have video evidence.

"With finite resources such as they are," he said, "firework complaints are just a small picture of everything else that's going on in the city of Lincoln. And while we are responding to those, we also have thefts, domestics, assaults, everything else happening."

An extra 50 to 100 calls, depending on what they are, can stretch those resources to the limits, he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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