In Utah, towns inch toward looser fireworks regulations
Jake Fisher and his six nephews share a summer ritual: shooting mortar fireworks in the backyard.
"They're the fun ones" because they send neon bursts above the family barbecue, said Fisher, 36, of Bountiful. He's looking forward to the tradition again, he added, but "I don't care for them so much when it's a super dry season."
Fisher and fellow firework fans can celebrate a little more freedom in Utah this summer, but with the same caveat. Under a new state law starting July 1, towns and cities no longer have a say over which fireworks may light up. That's as long as the area doesn't have a high chance of wildfires.
Local council members can still ban the sparks in crags, forests, farms and in neighborhoods bordering brush. But city blocks and cul-de-sacs are immune for the most part, said Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who brought the bill forward this year.
Under the new law, local officials "cannot pick and choose among the fireworks," Dunnigan said. The idea is that "they really should not just do a blanket ban unless they truly believe that an entire city is a hazardous area."
"Let's face it," said Salt Lake City Fire Marshal Martha Ellis. "As usual, we're prime for another big year of wildfire."
Ellis encourages firework shoppers to look up the reach and power of different types so they know what they're getting into, she said.
Salt Lake air will likely stay dry over July 4 weekend, said weather service meteorologist Monica Traphagan.
"Combine high fire danger with fire works and you could definitely see some problems," she said. It's important to keep water on hand and stay away from grass, Traphagan said.
Bryan Nelson, who runs Clearfield stand Fireworks Frenzy said he hopes the law will boost sales this summer and require "a little bit more thought" before towns ban them. In the past, he said, some cities and towns quashed fireworks midsummer, miffing customers who already stocked up.
They had "handfuls of fireworks that they could no longer light," Nelson said.
This summer, other state laws still apply. That means Utah residents older than 16 have two launch windows: July 1-7 and July 21-27. Bottle rockets, sky rockets and cherry bombs are still out of the question. But "cake" fireworks the ones that shoot and scatter, such as Fisher's mortars get the green light.
The new law is the most recent measure to free up firework regulations. In 2011, lawmakers gave the go ahead on fireworks shooting higher than 15 feet.
It straightens out what is now a tangled process to determine which fireworks can pass in certain areas, Dunnigan said. It hands the decision over to fire marshals and community councils.
The law goes into effect July 1 well into wildfire season, and about two months later than most 2013 state laws. The start date hangs back because the measure links to Utah fire codes, Dunnigan said.
Explosives look innocent in their boxes, Ellis warns. But without prior research, "you light that fuse you have no idea what's going to happen. The next thing you know, it's going up, coming down with equal force and blowing up at your feet."
At Nelson's stand, shoppers can see up to 300 videos of individual fireworks when they use their smart phones to scan the corresponding code. That helps them determine which ones they can handle, he said.
Online • Check map before getting fired up
O On Monday, Salt Lake City Fire Department officials released an interactive fireworks-restrictions map. > bit.ly/restrictionmap