Anyone who has lived along the Wasatch Front for a while should not be surprised that the weather is turning hot and dry as the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day approach. And while the spring was unusually wet, a seasoned Utahn understands that this has made fire dangers only higher. Grasses, weeds and other natural fuels have grown to a level that, once they are withered by the hot sun, makes for hazardous conditions.
All of which once again brings into high relief the foolishness of the state Legislature's decision to pass a law this year expanding the list of legal fireworks to those that can rise 150 feet in the air, and allowing people to use them during a 30-day period that started on Sunday. There is little left to do now other than urge caution and to remind people that the new liberal allowances do not apply everywhere in the state. A number of cities have had the wisdom to restrict fireworks within their limits, citing potential hazards to the safety of their citizens. Fireworks of all kinds, meanwhile, are off-limits on state and federal lands.
We hope the news of those restrictions will penetrate the collective conscious as much as news of the new lax state laws did earlier this year. Utah historically has had trouble with people who act foolishly with fireworks. Beginning in the 19th century, newspaper accounts are filled with tragic stories of death and injury around the July holidays.
Lawmakers decided to loosen the law this year ostensibly to keep people from driving to Wyoming to buy illegal fireworks that they then bring back to the state. Law enforcement has long had a problem policing the illegal fireworks that fly through the air during the holidays. But loosening the law was the exact opposite of what they ought to have done.
In a recent Deseret News story, Park City Fire Marshal Scott Adams outlined the precautions Utahns need to take with the newly legal aerial, or "cake," fireworks. To fire these safely, people will need to secure 210 feet of clearance around the launch base, with at least 150 feet between the launch site and any spectators. This is why Provo decided to designate six city parks as the only places where the newly legal fireworks may be launched. The average driveway or backyard simply won't do. Salt Lake City, on the other hand, decided to expand the zone in which fireworks are banned, including in all city parks.
Both the Fourth and Pioneer Day are wonderful times for exuberant celebrations. The nation's independence and the extreme sacrifices of those who forged modern civilization in a harsh land deserve veneration and joyful thanks. But the men and women responsible for those feats were masters of common sense. Our hope is that Utahns this year will err on caution's side, not push the new legal limits.