In our opinion: Minimize the danger of fireworks by encouraging city-funded celebrations

Published: Saturday, June 7 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

There is an important reason to keep city-funded fireworks display. Safety regulations are closely followed during such celebrations. Cancelling them would only encourage more people to light off displays of their own at home.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News Archives

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It is an unfortunate coincidence that two of the most incendiary holidays of the year in Utah fall in July, a month that typically is hot, dry and flammable. Under those conditions, many things can start a fire — lightning, a casually tossed cigarette butt, the heat from a bullet fired into brush, the hot underside of a car parked over dried grass, and on and on.

Fireworks are by no means the only dangerous things flying around this time of year, but their prevalence around the state’s two major July holidays, on the 4th and 24th, make them of particular concern.

On Tuesday the Salt Lake City Council voted to reject Mayor Ralph Becker’s plan to eliminate city-funded fireworks displays in Liberty, Sugar House and Jordan parks. He had wanted to end these shows, not so much for their combined $40,000 price tag, but because of concerns over what smoke from these displays does to air quality.

The council decided to keep the shows unless air quality is bad on the day they are scheduled. That was a wise decision for two reasons. Along the Wasatch Front, air quality tends to be good and smoke tends to dissipate quickly unless a temperature inversion is in place. Hinging a decision to cancel the displays based on air quality is good common sense.

But there is an equally important reason to keep city-funded display. Safety regulations are closely followed during such celebrations. Canceling them would only encourage more people to light off displays of their own at home, where safety may not be the biggest concern.

In the past, cities in Utah have decided to ban the use of fireworks at home when fire dangers were particularly acute. Salt Lake County already has decided to impose restrictions on parts of the unincorporated county this year.

Unfortunately, state lawmakers have seemed more concerned in recent years with people who might be traveling to Wyoming to buy fireworks that are illegal under Utah law than they have been about fire safety.

In 2011, the Legislature changed the law to allow certain kinds of aerial fireworks for private use that can shoot up to 150 feet. To fire these, safety regulations require people to secure 210 feet of clearance around the launch base and 150 feet between the launch site and spectators. As we said at the time, the average driveway won’t accommodate such restrictions. Lawmakers should have tightened restrictions, not loosened them. In addition, the 150-foot limit makes it harder than ever to distinguish between them and the more dangerous, illegal kinds.

Utah already has begun bracing for a bad wildfire season: the state already has seen fires in its drought-stricken southern regions.

State forestry officials and firefighters try to warn people how quickly a spark can build into a raging inferno. An errant bottle rocket could ignite a bush or the tiles of a roof and get out of hand before people have much chance to react.

The tragic backdrop to this year’s approaching fire season is last year’s Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, which killed 19 firefighters.

Nature and careless humans already make fire season enough of a challenge. We urge all cities along the Wasatch Front to carefully consider the need to restrict fireworks and to act accordingly as the holidays approach. Formal, permitted fireworks displays that are closely monitored and professionally organized are the safest way for people to enjoy the celebration of the season.

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