Guy Fawkes and fireworks: Everything you need to know

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November…" the old rhyme starts, telling us the story of a man called Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder treason plot that "should never be forgot". 

And 414 years after Fawkes and some accomplices tried to blow up England's King James I and the houses of Parliament in London on November 5, 1605, he is still remembered the world over, notably in England and its former colonies. 

Fawkes' plan was thwarted when authorities received an anonymous tip-off that he was guarding barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, which he and his gang were planning to set off. 

Fawkes died on January 31 the following year, but not by execution. Curiously, he fell from the scaffolding moments before he was to be executed and broke his neck. This saved him from a torturous and drawn-out death. 

Today, people all over the world are still fascinated by Fawkes' ambitious plot to restore a Catholic monarchy. 

The details have somehow faded into the annals of history, but what has remained is an annual celebration of the big explosion that never happened by celebrating the day with bonfires on the greens and fireworks in the parks. 

In South Africa, the tradition of setting off fireworks on Guy Fawkes night has somehow prevailed, and Tuesday night will be no exception. 

Whether or not it is legal to set off fireworks on a person's own property is governed by local by-laws. In some areas, no fireworks may be set off at any time without the written permission of the local authority.

In other areas, it is permitted to set off fireworks on specified dates between certain times on domestic properties. 

In most metropolitan areas, these specific dates and times include: 

- Diwali from 19:00 to 22:00; 

- Christmas Eve from 19:00 to 22:00;

- Day of Goodwill, December 26, from 19:00 to 22:00;

- New Year's Eve, December 31, from 23:00 to 01:00;

- New Year's Day, January 1, from 19:00 to 22:00;

- Chinese New Year from 19:00 to 22:00;

- Human Rights Day from 19:00 to 22:00;

- Freedom Day from 19:00 to 22:00; and

- Guy Fawkes Day from 19:00 to 22:00. 

'Be considerate'

According to City of Joburg MMC for Public Safety Michael Sun, people who set off fireworks outside these hours, or who do not comply with the City's safety guidelines, could be penalised. 

"One of the biggest pleas we would like to make is that residents be considerate to others and of course to pets," Sun told News24. "We recognise that people have religious or cultural rights, but we really need to exercise those rights in consideration of other people's rights and especially when it comes to the protection of our animals." 

The City of Cape Town announced earlier this month that it would not have any designated sites for fireworks this year.

The mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said in a statement that while people were not allowed to set off fireworks in terms of the Community Fire Safety by-law, the City had made an exception for a number of years.

This had been to accommodate events on Guy Fawkes, Diwali and New Year's Eve.

Smith said the City had decided on a different approach this year, as there was a "decreased appetite from sub-councils to approve designated sites".

He added it was also mindful of the growing public sentiment opposing the use of fireworks.

"Given that there will be no designated sites this year, the City appeals to residents to please refrain from setting off fireworks."

In terms of the City's by-laws, no one is allowed to operate a public fireworks display without getting prior permission and a permit from the chief fire officer or municipal manager.

How to protect your pets

The National Council of the SPCA (NSPCA) has historically had its hands full in dealing with hysterical or scared domestic animals as a result of fireworks set off in residential areas. 

"Guy Fawkes holds no relevance to our country - if you feel compelled to celebrate this night, refrain from using fireworks. Fireworks terrify animals," the organisation wrote on its Facebook page.

"The NSPCA is opposed to the use of fireworks – these don't only impact domestic animals but farm animals and wildlife are detrimentally affected as well. We strongly discourage the use of fireworks and implore the public to be more considerate of the sentient creatures around them," spokesperson Meg Wilson told News24.

The NSPCA said the sound of fireworks were five times as loud to cats and dogs as they were to humans. 

The animal-protection group has provided the following guide to pet owners: 

- Ensure all animals have identification;

- If possible, stay home with them if you suspect fireworks are going to be used;

- If you cannot be home with them, keep them inside and preferably in a room such as the kitchen where the windows are higher (and more difficult to jump through);

- Attempt to mask any noise by drawing curtains and playing calming music at a reasonable volume;

- Put familiar and comforting things around them such as toys, baskets, etc.;

- Provide them with something to do such as giving your dog a chewy bone or lots of catnip or a catnip toy for felines;

- If your pets do react badly to fireworks, then seek professional advice from your veterinarian;

- Ensure your pets have a hearty and nutritious meal around nightfall. This will make them more likely to be sleepy.

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