Gunfire started this one, could be fireworks next time

As I write this, more than 1,000 people are being evacuated from Saratoga Springs, Utah, because of a fast-moving fire. Officials say people who were shooting near the landfill accidentally started the blaze. The outside temperature is about 90 degrees and rising.

All of which has me thinking about nutty state lawmakers.

I’m usually not so critical of the group Utahn vote to represent them at the state Capitol. Jokes at their expense are cliché and generally ill-informed. I know a lot of lawmakers, and they’re good, sincere people. But why on earth did they vote last year to liberalize fireworks laws around the two big July holidays?

I know the stock answer. Utahns were thumbing their noses at the old, more restrictive law. They were driving to Wyoming and buying the whiz-bang fireworks and setting them off back in Utah. That meant Utah businesses were losing money to Wyoming businesses just across the border, and the state was losing out on some sales tax revenue.

Exactly how much is not known. My guess is it wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t enough to justify the heightened risk of a fire.

The Saratoga Springs fire was not started by fireworks. It was, officials say, an accident. But fireworks and accidents are close cousins, and conditions are ripe for a dangerous reunion next month.

It doesn’t take much of a mistake to lose control of fire. My South Jordan neighborhood learned this last month when an accident caused a three-alarm blaze that ended up threatening several homes and a golf course.

Human nature being what it is, some people will always push limits. If the speed limit is 65, people set their cruise control at 70, knowing police probably won’t bother with a little extra speed.

And so, when the law suddenly allows certain kinds of aerial fireworks that can shoot up to 150 feet, well, some people will still get the illegal kind that shoot even higher. Who’s going to get a tape measure to check? And with all the stuff flying through the air, who will distinguish between the legal and illegal kind?

I get the arguments about needing to celebrate our nation’s freedom and the pioneers’ entry into the Salt Lake Valley. Those holidays are among my favorite each year.

One year was an exception, however. It was the year a bottle rocket landed in a bush outside our home and set it ablaze. Without alert and quick-thinking neighbors, our house would have been gone in a hurry.

Lawmakers this year revisited the law and set stricter time limits for when people can legally use fireworks. That’s not enough.

Since the Legislature didn’t address this in its recent special session, it’s up to cities and counties to impose restrictions. The folks in Saratoga Springs and here in my neighborhood know that heat, wind and fire is not a knock-off of a ‘70s pop group. It can ruin a fun time in a hurry.

Categories: Uncategorized

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

2 comments

  1. The Fly on the wall.

    good news for the author of this article. the type of firework “bottle Rocket” that started his fire is still illegal;. while the new aerial types go up hot and come down cold.as stated by its author. much more dangerous as a fire hazard are stupid people misusing a legal product.

  2. David

    I just love it when people make comments on ignorance instead of known facts as Mr. Evensen seems to so well illustrate here. For over 40 years bans on fireworks were imposed on the people of Utah, and by and large a huge number of Utahns ignored the law, travelled to Wyoming, bought the “illegal stuff” and brought it back to Utah to light off. In all that time with plenty of very dry years, all those fireworks failed to turn Utah into a blacken char. I find it amazing that all of a sudden Mr. Evensen believes that because these same fireworks are now legal in Utah, that magically the whole state of Utah will suddenly be burned to a crisp. In fact in my conversations with the Utah State Firemarshal I learned that the state does not differentiate between fires started by professional shows and those started John Q. Public. To them it’s all the same. I also learned that although a real threat, that the fires started by fireworks in this state are way down near the bottom of the list of causes. Obviously lightning is the number one cause, but of the man-made causes, campfires, cars, train, wielding, cigarettes, shooting, and a host of other cause pose a greater threat to turning Utah into a black wasteland than firework, yet Mr. Evensen, in his infinite wisdom, seems to want to pick on fireworks! What Mr. Evensen really needs is a dose of reality, do some real research, learn what the truth is instead of making wild imagined accusations. The State legislature finally pulled their head out of the sand last year and made aerials legal. Utahns were already lighting them off with increasing numbers every year. And Utah is not alone. Americans all over the US are tired of their states being Nanny States and trying to solve all their perceived ills. Up until last year 5 states had a total ban on all fireworks including snaps and sparklers. On their borders states with more liberal laws had huge firework stores to sell to citizens in those “banned” states. They are all fighting a losing battle. The cost to the states to police it is astronomical. Arizona, one of those “banned” states legalized fireworks. Bills are currently before the New York and Massachusetts legislatures to allow fireworks leaving Delaware and New Jersey the lone holdouts. Maine, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, and other states have lifted restrictions on fireworks in recent years. Why? Because they learned, as the Utah legislature did, that banning just doesn’t work. The police do not enjoy putting a damper on everyone’s celebrations. It really does make them the bad guys, and the police do not like to be made the bad guy. With the state legalizing these fireworks, they can proactively provide safety instructions on how to use them safely. Before they could not, all they could do is say, “Don’t use them”. Even the change in law this year won’t change a thing. I have already heard fireworks going off in my neighborhood. Shooting them off last year at all hours of the night was already illegal, and people ignored it and the police didn’t enforce it. Hundreds of thousands of Utahns love their fireworks and want to celebrate their independence lighting them off. Banning them reminds Americans of the freedoms they have lost by an overzealous legislature trying to take their freedoms away, so like our forefathers, they have their own “American Revolution”.

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