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.
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.