Eighteen years ago, more than a thousand people gathered for the Independence Day celebration - and fireworks - at the Maui Country Club, recalled former club President John Vail.
"There was a sea of kids from the ninth green to the ninth tee, doing what kids do," he said.
Organized fireworks displays and smaller family celebrations with firecrackers used to be a common way for Maui to mark the Fourth of July and other occasions. But now Vail and others who look back fondly on the tradition think that might be becoming a thing of the past.
Fewer fireworks shows are expected in Maui County this Fourth of July. Only one show has been organized this year, the Maui Chamber of Commerce display scheduled for 8 p.m. off Front Street.
The Maui News file photo
Only one fireworks show has been organized for the Fourth this year, the Maui Chamber of Commerce display scheduled for 8 p.m. off Front Street. And with not a single merchant in the county importing firecrackers for sale, county fire officials announced last week that they would not be issuing any firecracker permits for this Fourth.
King's Cathedral used to put on a big fireworks show on the Fourth for crowds at the soccer field at War Memorial. The fireworks were launched from the breakwater at Kahului Harbor.
But the church stopped doing the fireworks several years ago, said Pastor Harold Bacos.
"A lot of it was the expense," he says, adding that tighter restrictions on the part of the county played a role in the decision, too.
When Vail was in his first year as president of Maui Country Club, in 1990, the fireworks had been abandoned for a few years. He says he insisted, against skepticism on the part of the board, on reviving them.
When he went to find pyrotechnicians, the first five he contacted were booked up. The sixth agreed to do a show on July 5, a Sunday.
No longer does Maui keep half a dozen pyrotechnicians busy on the Fourth.
Nor will Mauians be setting off their own strings of firecrackers this year, unless they've smuggled them in.
The Department of Fire and Public Safety announced Thursday that it would not be issuing firecracker permits, because no retailers are selling firecrackers this month.
The legal sale of fireworks will begin Wednesday and end July 4. The department does not require permits for consumer fireworks such as sparklers, snakes, fountains and cylindrical or cone fountains, which emit effects no higher than 12 feet off the ground.
Fireworks can only be legally set off from 1 to 9 p.m. on the Fourth of July. Violations are subject to fines of up to $2,000.
Aerial fireworks are illegal, except for professionals, and importing and selling aerial fireworks without a permit is a Class C Felony.
The other, and usually bigger, day for fireworks has been Chinese New Year, but Warren Liu, chairman of the Maui Chinese Club, recalls that in the old days, fireworks marked all sorts of festivities, not only New Year's and the Fourth.
"It's been a tradition, especially in the Chinese community," he says. Lion dances with fireworks would mark the beginning and the end of celebrations.
Liu attributes the decline of fireworks to the growth in population, saying people are crowding out fireworks.
But, he says, the economy has a lot to do with it, too.
The Maui Chinese Club still plans to sponsor fireworks shows, but he is concerned that it will become more and more difficult. He's worried that retailers, already reluctant to stock firecrackers for the Fourth, may not do so for Chinese New Year either.
Sheryl Toda, spokeswoman for Foodland, said that chain is selling fireworks that do not require permits now, but that its permit allows it to sell firecrackers only from Dec. 29-31.
Akamai shoppers who want to shoot off red firecrackers on Chinese New Year - and it will be the year of the dragon, the most auspicious of them all - know to buy in December and save their fireworks. Chinese New Year is Jan. 23.
Greg Chou, head of the Maui office of Morgan Stanley, says he thinks fireworks will hang on for a while longer at Chinese New Year, because restaurants will have a business reason to support them.
"New Year is the big thing," he says.
But not as big as it was. Growing up in Honolulu, Chou was treated to smoky, noisy celebrations that left streets covered in red paper. Now, it seems, "we're at a tipping point," and firecrackers are an endangered species, he says.
"It's sad," says Liu. "Now we are beginning to break the links that were unbroken, that linked so many families."
Vail says he understands the problems with fireworks in dense neighborhoods but says there was never any problem with the club's celebrations, which also included the old men vs. the young men in softball, fishing in the reservoir, games, hot dogs and potato salad.
"It was just a great day," he said.
The club dropped the fireworks some years after Vail finished his term as president, and for the same reasons that the church did: cost, concern about potential damage and government restrictions.
"So many people have said, fireworks is entertainment for the feebleminded," Vail says. "I say, can't there be one day out of the year when we can get away with being somewhat feebleminded?"
Some people are irresponsible with fireworks, and "I'm not in favor of that," he said. But he thinks organized displays are another matter.
The Fire Prevention Bureau warns that it is unlawful to remove or extract pyrotechnic contents; throw any ignited fireworks from a moving vehicle; set off fireworks within 1,000 feet of health care facilities and facilities for animals; set off fireworks near schools or on public roads, in county parks, at county facilities, cane fields, or places of worship; set off fireworks within 500 feet from any hotel (without a permit); or to sell or give any fireworks to minors, and for any minors to possess, purchase or ignite fireworks, except as parents or guardians may allow the minor to use while under the immediate supervision and control of an adult.
The bureau also has these safety tips:
* Fireworks can be dangerous, causing serious burns and eye injuries.
* Young children and fireworks do not mix. Never give fireworks, even sparklers, to young children. Sparklers burn at temperatures of 2,000 degrees.
* Older children should use fireworks only under the direct supervision of an adult.
* Always read and follow all warnings and instructions listed by the manufacturer.
* Make sure you have a clear, flat area to use the fireworks, away from structures, dry grass or brush, or other readily ignitable materials.
* Have a water hose or bucket of water readily available in case of a fire.
This year, there is one public fireworks display scheduled at 8 p.m. on the Fourth, from a barge offshore of Front Street. Front Street will be closed to motor traffic during the fireworks display, which should last about 10 minutes.
For additional information on the fireworks permits, contact the Maui Fire Prevention Bureau at 244-9161 or visit www.co.maui.hi.us to see the fireworks rules under the "Fire Control" section.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at email@example.com.