PORTLAND – Joe Thomas might have been one of the few Mainers hoping for a rainy evening on July 4th.

Thomas, the state’s acting fire marshal, knew rain would certainly dampen the spirits — as well as the matches and fuses — of those eager to set off lots of fireworks on the first Independence Day with legal sales of fireworks to Mainers.

“It can’t hurt,” Thomas said of the prospects for rain.

The marginal weather outlook didn’t help a Standish man who was seriously burned by a fireworks accident late Wednesday evening.

Thomas said the man, who wasn’t immediately identified, had cut up a “nine-shot cake” — a round of fireworks lit by a single fuse which sets off a small fountain of sparks as the fuse lights each section.

The man cut the fireworks into three pieces, Thomas said, leaving him a shorter fuse to light. As he leaned over the fireworks to light the fuse, it went off, Thomas said.

“That’s not what it was intended to be used for,” Thomas said. “You light one fuse and get out of the way and let it do its thing.”

He said the man’s injuries were not considered to be life-threatening and he was taken to Maine Medical Center for treatment.

The accident is emblematic of what Thomas and local police have been worried about for weeks.

The state legalized the sale of fireworks to consumers last year, and the law took effect Jan. 1. But many towns and cities, including Portland and South Portland, adopted their own ordinances against using fireworks within city limits or buying them with plans to resell the explosives.

Still, the change in state law prompted a small boom in the industry, with fireworks stores opening up around Maine, catering to those who live in towns without local restrictions or to those who were either unaware of town laws or planning to ignore them.

Phantom Fireworks in Scarborough was open for 16 hours Wednesday — its version of Christmas — with more than a thousand customers tromping through by late afternoon, said Jarred Falls, the store manager.

“It’s jammed in here,” said Falls, who noted that the store planned to stay open until midnight, presumably for those inspired to shoot off rockets late — or perhaps those who ran out early.

“It’s been a real good day,” said Falls, who has been with the fireworks company for about 10 years and manager of the Scarborough store since it opened a little more than two weeks ago.

“Everyone’s excited that it’s legal in the state,” Fall said, estimating that the average customer spent $150 to $200 on Wednesday.

Local police didn’t seem so thrilled, however.

South Portland decided to use plainclothes officers cruising around the city after complaints about fireworks during the first six months of the year jumped by nearly tenfold.

The city has fines for use of fireworks or selling fireworks ranging from $200 to $1,000 and had summonsed two people as of early this week.

The celebration kicked off early, with many towns and cities citing a surge in complaints about fireworks use on the eve of the holiday.

“It sounds like Baghdad out there,” a dispatcher for the Scarborough Police Department said Tuesday night, just a few minutes before a 10 p.m. curfew took effect.

Scarborough allows the use of fireworks on July 3, 4 and 5 and on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but sets a cutoff time for the racket.

A dispatcher for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department said officers were out straight Tuesday night investigating more than 50 fireworks-related complaints.

And in Westbrook, police said they had checked on more than 15 complaints about fireworks going off.

Lt. Robert Ridge of the Portland Police Department said that since the new fireworks law went into effect there has been a steady stream of complaints.

Ridge said one of the enforcement issues confronting police is arriving in time to find the offenders. He said there have been several complaints of people dropping firecrackers from moving vehicles.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this article.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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