Herald editorial: Kudos for easing back on reckless fireworks use

July 29, 2018

Many people in Utah Valley should pat themselves on the back for observing the new fireworks restrictions enacted this month. While we often lament people blatantly ignoring common-sense rules, it’s encouraging to see people do their part — especially when an errant explosion could lead to disaster in our parched foothills and fields.

This year, the state reduced the number of days that people could legally set off fireworks from 14 to eight. The move reduced the fireworks period to a couple of days before and after Independence Day and Pioneer Day.

For the most part, people stuck to the shortened period. There were some bad apples, but things were mostly calm outside of the fireworks window. It also helped staffing for Utah Valley fire departments because they didn’t have as many days to patrol specific areas.

The new rules also made it easier for cities to restrict fireworks use. It also increased the fine for non-compliance to $1,000 from $750.

Overall, the new rules appeared to have helped. Some local fire departments reported responding to less fire calls — although they still had their hands full handing out warnings to people in restricted zones.

To the casual observer, it also appeared that people were still able to go all out in their celebrations as the skies were still filled with light.

That’s not to say that things went perfectly. Some neighborhoods in restricted areas still saw some pyrotechnics. There were a handful of people who either didn’t the message or ignored it by setting off fireworks outside of the proscribed window.

We also heard first responders asking others for clarification of which days fireworks were OK. It’s good to double-check, but it seems like something that fire and police officers should be aware off before working to educate the public.

There were also fires that appeared to have started because people didn’t ensure that their spent fireworks were dead cold before putting them in the garbage. That’s something that should be entirely avoidable — especially if someone puts the spent explosives in a bucket of water before throwing them away.

While it appears strides are being made, we feel that there’s more to be done, especially during a summer when fires are sweeping through the West. While Utah cities have made an effort to delineate where fireworks are OK and where they’re restricted, it seems like there would be a point when fireworks aren’t OK anywhere. Other states and areas put in place total fireworks bans when fire conditions are too unfavorable to permit their use. Utah should consider such a policy if we face extended drought.

It would also be nice to have more rational fireworks periods. During current fireworks days, people can set off fireworks from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with an hour-long extension to midnight on July 4 and 24. Outside of cultural celebrations, it seems unlikely that people will set off fireworks while the sun is shining. A more defined window may be helpful.

There are enforcement rules in place, but it appears that fire and police departments are reluctant to issue citations. That’s understandable — no one wants to be a party pooper. However, as people become more familiar with the rules, it makes sense to move from warnings to citations.

With ongoing effort, fireworks can remain a part of celebrations without leading to fires or other tragedies.

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