CUMBERLAND — Julie Klippert’s house was almost set ablaze by errant fireworks Monday night, but she says that’s no reason to curtail the annual display in her Crossing Brook neighborhood.

“The dads – this is the one time of the year they get to light stuff up,” said Klippert, who lost part of the vinyl siding on her house, along with a section of the eaves and a pine tree that she decorated for the holidays.

The problem occurred when one of the fireworks displays at the neighborhood’s Fourth of July gathering went sideways instead of up, zooming into the evergreen at the front corner of her house.

Klippert was in a back room of the house with her three dogs at the time, trying to keep them calm because she knew the loud noises would upset them. Klippert said she ran out when her daughter, Carley, rushed into the house and told her there was a fire. Klippert said she fled so quickly she was wearing only her pajama top when she grabbed the dogs and ran.

The tree, in front of an unoccupied bedroom in the house, went up like a torch, but neighbors eventually put the flames out, using a hose attached to an outside faucet just a few feet away from the tree. Fire Chief Dan Small said his firefighters were delayed a few minutes because they already had been dispatched to West Cumberland to deal with a brush fire – also started by fireworks – just before Klippert’s fire was reported.

When they arrived in Crossing Brook, Small said, the house’s siding was still smoking. Firefighters cut down what was left of the tree, pulled some siding off the house, removed the trim under the eaves and pulled out the fiberglass insulation, which had melted from the heat.

“It certainly had every opportunity to take off” and burn more of the house, Small said, saying he was “very surprised” the entire structure wasn’t involved.

No one was injured.


Since the Legislature ended a 63-year statewide ban and permitted the sale and use of fireworks in January 2012, debate over whether Mainers should be allowed to set off personal fireworks resumes every year around Independence Day. Injury reports usually jump, and last year a Calais man died when the fireworks mortar he was holding on his head was ignited.

After the state lifted its ban, 44 towns prohibited fireworks outright. Thirty-nine other towns – including Cumberland – permit the use of fireworks by residents, although there are usually restrictions, such as the days when fireworks can be set and, in a few cases, limits on where they can be used.

Klippert was assessing the damage to her house and had contacted her insurance carrier, which hadn’t sent out an adjuster by Tuesday afternoon. A gofundme page for contributions to help pay for repairs had raised $1,370 by Tuesday evening toward a goal of $10,000.

Cumberland, like a lot of towns in Maine, adopted a modified ban on fireworks. Cumberland’s law permits use of fireworks on July 3-5, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Fireworks must be shot off on private property, but the lot next to Klippert’s house is town-owned. She said she cuts the grass and maintains that space because neighborhood kids like to gather there and play soccer or “manhunt.”

Police Chief Charles Rumsey said that because of where the fireworks were set off, an investigation is underway to determine whether the town ordinance was violated. Fire Chief Small said officials are working to pinpoint the property line between Klippert’s house and the town’s lot. He said a burned area in the grass indicates where the fireworks were set off.

Violating the ordinance by shooting off fireworks on public property can result in a civil fine of up to $500.

Klippert said she sees nothing wrong with what happened. She said the neighborhood enjoys the show, and estimates that about 150 people had gathered at dusk to watch the display. It’s a chance for neighbors to get together and have a good time, she said, and the fireworks show is preceded by a neighborhood cookout on the town lot.

Sean Richard, 16, said his father, Steve Richard, was one of those setting off fireworks with another neighbor. Sean Richard said one explosive apparently damaged another set up next to it, cracking the base and knocking it sideways, sending a firework toward Klippert’s house. Sean Richard said a piece of the firework’s base hit him as he was bringing chairs out from behind Klippert’s house, but it didn’t injure him or leave a mark.

Steve Richard declined to comment Tuesday.

“Don’t blame him, it’s not his fault,” Klippert said.


Town Manager Bill Shane lives a few doors down from Klippert, but didn’t realize that a fire had broken out until he heard the fire engines arriving in the neighborhood.

He noted that most houses in Cumberland are on larger lots than the quarter-acre plots in Crossing Brook and fireworks in a densely populated neighborhood represent a bigger risk.

Shane said the town’s ordinance is a compromise between those who wanted fireworks banned entirely, and those who didn’t want any restrictions on their use in Cumberland.

Shane said town officials also recognized that even if the town banned the use of personal fireworks, people would still likely be shooting them off around Independence Day.

Incidents like the fire at Klippert’s house “are why we go watch professionals do this,” Shane said.

“There are so many bad things that could have gone wrong,” he said, especially if the explosive had shot through a window instead of hitting the tree in front of the house.

Shane expects the Town Council will want an update on the incident when it meets later this month, although he doesn’t expect a move to change the law, at least not immediately.

This year’s Fourth of July celebration was a relatively peaceful one statewide, state Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Tuesday, noting that the only reports he received about problems related to fireworks were the Cumberland incident and a report of a 16-year-old boy in South Portland who received a minor burn on his leg.

Thomas receives his reports from EMS squads, so if someone received a minor injury or sought care on their own, he wouldn’t hear about it. He said his office also checked analytics on the fire marshal’s website from last week and recorded just under 3,000 visits, with more than half of them visiting a page on fireworks regulations and safety tips. He’s hopeful that represents more respect for local laws and a greater emphasis on safety.

Small, the fire chief, said he’d like to see Cumberland added to the list of towns that ban the use of fireworks completely, although he’s not optimistic that will happen.

Small said he opposed the use of fireworks when Cumberland’s ordinance was adopted in December 2011 just a few weeks before the state ban was lifted.

“They should be left to the professionals,” he said. “I’d much rather people go to the Eastern Prom (in Portland) and watch them go off there than shoot them off at their homes.”

Small said he might also suggest limiting the use of fireworks in more densely populated neighborhoods, such as Crossing Brook.