There was a noticeable buzz among the steady stream of customers moving through the fireworks aisles at the Kaheka Street Don Quijote store yesterday.
Among them was Kalihi resident Asa Lakalaka, who had a trove of sparklers, fountains and pop-pops in her shopping cart that threatened to swell even larger as her four young children ogled the brightly labeled packages.
Like others in the fireworks aisle, Lakalaka is unhappy with a city ordinance that takes effect Sunday banning nearly all fireworks on Oahu. The only exception will be firecrackers, which consumers may still buy with permits sold by the city.
"I wish they wouldn’t ban it," Lakalaka said, observing the frenzied scene at Don Quijote. "My kids like it, we all like it."
Because this weekend’s celebration might be the last time Oahu sees most consumer fireworks — including the sparklers, fountains and smoke bombs that have become synonymous with New Year’s Eve celebrations for generations — some have predicted that this New Year’s bang might be bigger than others.
Anecdotally, reports from around Oahu suggest there have been fewer homemade concussion bombs rocking islanders, as they normally do after Thanksgiving. But what that means for New Year’s Eve is uncertain.
"They’re sporadic, not like before," said East Honolulu City Councilman Lee Donohue. "I don’t know if that that means everybody is saving up for the big day."
State Sen. Willie Espero, who heads the Legislature’s Illegal Fireworks Task Force, said the bomb blasts in his Ewa Beach neighborhood have also been fewer than usual.
Espero said he hopes he is wrong, but he is predicting the worst. "I think it’s going to be bad," he said. "I think people might be saving up for New Year’s Eve."
Debbie Odo, tobacco control manager and spokeswoman for the American Lung Association of Hawaii, said there have also been fewer bombs in Mililani where she lives.
"My question is whether it’s due to the weather because it’s been raining a lot," Odo said. "I hope people are being more conservative because of their awareness of the smoke caused by fireworks and novelty items."
The Police Department is not taking chances. Police Chief Louis Kealoha has said that enforcement of fireworks laws is being stepped up this year.
Last week, police arrested two people in Kapolei on suspicion of selling fireworks without a permit. A third person was arrested in Kalihi for setting off fireworks too early.
Dr. Jim Ireland, acting director of the city Department of Emergency Services, said the city will place four additional ambulances on duty this New Year’s Eve, for a total of 23.
While some fireworks-related injuries are burns or trauma from illegal fireworks, "the vast majority of fireworks-related calls have to do with breathing problems," Ireland said.
At the Queen’s Medical Center, Dr. Caesar Ursic, trauma medical director, said emergency and operating rooms are fully staffed 24 hours a day. Because there is always a contingency plan in place for all kinds of emergencies that require doctors and nurses to be on standby, no additional staff is being brought in for New Year’s Eve.
The fireworks law passed in the summer was seen as a compromise in that it continues to allow firecrackers, thus skirting the argument that cultural and religious practices would be infringed upon.
Opponents of the ban warn, however, that the new law will only drive the fireworks market underground.
The scene at fireworks sellers yesterday was mixed.
The fireworks section at Don Quijote Kaheka had a steady stream of buyers, but it was not wall to wall.
The by-permit firecracker section was in one corner of the store, and there was only a smattering of people perusing the selection there. A significantly larger crowd gathered along several aisles at the middle of the store devoted to all other fireworks such as sparklers.
"I’m really devastated. They’re taking away our culture and our tradition," said Joe Valdez, 60, of Makakilo. "Next thing you know, they’re going to take away our poi and our raw fish."
Michael Siaris, 19, of Waipahu had two $25 permits. One was used to buy a 5,000-firecracker string, which will be popped from a pole at midnight. The other bought five 1,000-firecracker packs.
"I grew up with this," Siaris said as he looked for novelties for younger relatives. "Growing up as a kid will be kind of junk now."
Some people said they intend to keep a stash for later, but most said they intended to follow the Fire Department’s advice that storing fireworks poses a fire and general safety hazard.
At the TNT Fireworks tent on Kapiolani Boulevard, business was slow yesterday. But worker Ryan Perreira was optimistic sales would pick up closer toward the big night.
Best sellers included the old standard "ground blooms" which, at $4 for 72 pieces, are considered a good bang for the buck, Perreira said.
On the other hand, Evile Ieriko, City Mill Mililani store manager, said fireworks were flying off the shelf at his store, especially yesterday and Monday.
Ieriko said the store brought in about 15 percent more inventory than in previous years and that he expects to sell out. "I could see people just throwing things in the wagon without even thinking about it," he said.
Paperless firecrackers were moving the best, he said.
Ieriko said City Mill executives are expected to huddle after the holiday season to look at ways of making up lost revenue from the fireworks ban, including selling Halloween items for the first time.