The fourth of July is a celebration that usually brings together families and friends for a gathering with lots of barbecued food, cold drinks, laughter and fun memories. But not to be left out, the celebrations also include a wide assortment of fireworks, both big and small, that help make the festivities stand out from one another.
But for many cities around the country, fireworks are the very thing they worry about the most. One small spark or a small piece of heated material from a used firework can do plenty of damage in starting a fire. Wanting to avoid possible problems related to fireworks, the Sunnyside City Council on Tuesday passed a motion restricting the use of fireworks within the city limits to a paved lot near the city park. The ruling says that no fireworks may be discharged at or near any dwellings within the city.
Gene Madrid, Sunnyside fire chief, said the use of fireworks, including new ones approved by the state fire marshal, are hazardous for a rural area such as Sunnyside.
"As dry as it's getting out here, it's a worrying situation," he told the council.
Citing safety, the council agreed that having a designated fireworks area in the paved lot by the park would provide a controlled environment and a much safer atmosphere for people to enjoy the fireworks.
Madrid said the fireworks demonstration at the State Fire Convention two weeks ago was an "eye-opening experience" and he is worried that some of the newly approved fireworks, which can reach heights of over 100 feet, pose a danger to the city and its residents.
Significant changes in the Utah fireworks laws went into effect this year, including the permitted use of aerial fireworks. Some of them are known as "multiple tubes," "repeaters" or "cake" fireworks which look like professional displays and can travel to heights of 150 feet. While these types have been permitted, fireworks that are still banned from use include firecrackers, M-80s, cherry bombs, bottle rockets, Roman candles, single or re-loadable mortars, and ground salutes.
Even sparklers, one of the most iconic fireworks available, can be dangerous. The State Fire Marshal's office said that many children are burned each year from using sparklers, with the tips of the sparklers reaching a temperature of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit which are hot enough to cause third-degree burns.
The city is also basing its decision off a recent memo sent out by the Attorney General's office regarding the fireworks discharge restriction for cities and counties. The memo states that any city, county or town has the ability to adopt an ordinance or regulation that restricts the use of fireworks in a designated part of the city. While the memo states that a county would have difficulty banning the discharge of fireworks altogether, they would have the option of creating a designated area for the use of fireworks in the interest of public safety.
Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parsons said he was concerned about people discharging fireworks near homes in the city. Because of the proximity of houses within the area, one problem could lead to many more, Madrid said. The fire department could place their fire trucks down at the parking lot on the fourth of July and would be ready to deal with any problems should they arise, he explained.
"My main concern is having people's houses get burned down," Madrid said. "It's more concerning than in years past with some of these new fireworks that have been approved."
While many cities in the state and around the country are adopting resolutions with the discharge of fireworks, others cities in Carbon County are taking a wait and see approach. Helper Fire Chief Mike Zamantakis said Helper has had some good luck over the years with little to no problems dealing with the use of fireworks.
"There have been instances in the past where people have set off fireworks that lead to a fire on a hill side near the city cemetery, but in recent years the fire department hasn't encountered a situation like that since," he said.
While they haven't dealt with many problems recently, Zamantakis said problems have been avoided because the police department is always on patrol during the night to watch around the town and the city has had a little luck on their side. He said the fire department would be on the lookout to see what fireworks are being sold locally and would leave open the possibility of taking action similar to Sunnyside if it is deemed necessary.
While the newly approved fireworks may scare fire departments, Price Fire Chief Paul Bedont said he didn't want to make any knee-jerk reactions. Bedont said the state has been dealing with the problem of people buying illegal fireworks in other states, including Wyoming, for years. He said kids have in recent years set fire to grass and other debris piles with fireworks, but the city hasn't dealt with any major problems lately.
Like Helper, Bedont said the city would still keep the option open to an ordinance similar to Sunnyside if there is a need to do so. While he is concerned people using fireworks could set fire to things such as debris piles, he hopes people using fireworks exercise caution using them around houses. He suggested that people discharge fireworks in paved areas such as a parking lot instead of an open field where the potential for problems is greater.
"Fireworks used appropriately, should be okay," Bedont said.
Because Sunnyside City does not have an official fireworks show due to costs, people are left to drive to Price or create a show for themselves. While they cannot prevent everyone from using fireworks, Madrid said he hopes that everyone exercises safety.