As Independence Day approaches in one of the driest summers on record, fire and law enforcement officials are pleading for the public’s help in obeying fireworks restrictions and otherwise preventing fires.
Grantsville and Tooele have issued their own fireworks restrictions for city limits, viewable on each city’s respective website. Outside of those towns, there will be few areas in which fireworks can be legally deployed. Fireworks have been banned for the holidays in Ophir, Rush Valley, Stockton and Vernon.
As per a fire restriction order issued by Gov. Gary Herbert on June 22, fireworks are banned from all public lands and unincorporated areas in the state, and that ban has been bolstered by a slew of other orders issued by various government land agencies. The bans have been issued in an effort to curb the rapid starting and spread of wildfires, several of which are currently being battled across the state. Simply put, with very few exceptions, people who live in unincorporated areas, including Erda, Pine Canyon, Lake Point and Stansbury Park, may not light fireworks this year.
At the TC United soccer club’s fireworks stand in Stansbury Park, Andy Prescott, a Utah Highway Patrol corporal who volunteers at the stand, acknowledged that his group was selling fireworks in an area that doesn’t allow fireworks use. He said workers at the stand make sure to tell every customer about the ban and advise them of where they are allowed to set their purchases off.
“We explain the regulations and restrictions, and we explain the options as far as going to Grantsville or Tooele, and give a list of the parks there,” Prescott said.
Still, similar restrictions and bans have been instituted in past years, and violations have still occurred.
Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park recognizes the impossibility of cracking down on anyone who lights a firecracker outside the county’s two largest cities.
“Are we going to be able to enforce that ban? No,” Park said. “But, I guess the bottom line is law enforcement and fire service really want people to understand the seriousness of this fire season, and if there are fireworks flying in the air, needless to say that’s going to draw an increased interest from law enforcement and fire service.”
Park said there are no funds to increase patrol during the holiday week, so regularly scheduled deputies will just keep extra busy. Deputies will likely try to alleviate the problem verbally before issuing a citation, Park said, unless the circumstances of the situation dictate otherwise.
Park said he understands the temptation to celebrate the holiday with fireworks, particularly in Stansbury Park, which feels more urban than much of the rest of the county. However, he said, he cannot overemphasize the fire danger the dry weather has created.
“It won’t take much to get a fire of that type of intensity in our area because of how dry everything is,” Park said. “Its just a very dangerous situation and we hope people understand that.”
Fireworks that are limited to the ground are dangerous enough themselves, Park said, but those that send up sparks into the air are the most dangerous because of the number of sparks and the uncertainty over where they will land.
“All you know is where it came up from. You don’t know where it’s going to go down,” he said.
Persons caught violating the any fireworks ban could be cited with a misdemeanor. If the violation causes a fire, however, he said, the person responsible would also likely have to pay restitution for the damage caused.
North Tooele County Fire District Chief Randy Willden said though the prospect is daunting, the department is ready for whatever fires the holiday brings.
“We’ve been running extra people during the day and we’ve been having each station making sure there are at least two people ready to go, and that way I have a minimum of eight people and myself responding to everything,” he said. “It’s hard to restrict our volunteers on their holiday, but fortunately the holiday is in the middle of the week and not many people are going out of town.”
Park said he hopes no citations have to be issued, and although the week and the season are still young, people have been fairly cooperative so far.
“Hopefully at the end of the season we can say, ‘Boy, people cooperated well. We didn’t have any major fires,’” Park said.