Officials preach caution as 4th of July fireworks sales heat up - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Officials preach caution as 4th of July fireworks sales heat up

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Posted: Saturday, June 25, 2011 10:00 am

Delayed by a dead car battery, Karl and Rebecca Ready were still setting up their Chandler fireworks stand at noon on Friday, the tarp over their heads providing little refuge from the sweltering conditions.

In a lot on the southeast corner of McClintock Drive and Ray Road, the Scottsdale couple stacked tables with products that, before last year, were unavailable to Arizonans.

“These are pretty tame compared to what’s available in other parts of the country,” Karl Ready said. “My wife is from Missouri, and outside the cities there, you can shoot off pretty much anything you want. They’re way bigger than what you see here, and way louder.

“A lot of people want those Roman candle- or bottle rocket-type products, but they’re not legal here.”

The available fireworks may be modest, but they are still cause for concern among local fire and government officials before the first Independence Day since a new state law allowing the purchase of consumer fireworks took effect.

New Year’s Eve passed mostly without fireworks incident in East Valley cities, but July 4 figures to see much greater use. With conditions hotter and drier — and wildfires around the state as a backdrop — caution is being preached.

“The fireworks being sold in stores around our town are those intended to be used on private property or in a small area,” Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said. “If they are contained and safety guidelines are followed, everything should be OK. But there is the fear that, if fireworks are shot into the air, there is a risk with the dry air and heat. We’re trying to get the word out in Gilbert about what can be used and what can’t, and when.”

While the state law approves the sale of fireworks, cities can still ban their use.

Fireworks use remains illegal in Chandler and Tempe. Earlier this week, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors banned their use, citing fire risk.

In a statement, supervisor David Snider said that, with county staff helping fight the Wallow and Monument fires, “We cannot afford to take the chance and add to the strain on our firefighting resources.”

Gilbert permits fireworks on Dec. 31 through Jan. 1 and July 3-5; Mesa on Dec. 31 through Jan. 1 and June 28 through July 4. Both limit use to private property.

Some vendors may be unfamiliar with those laws, Mesa Fire Department Capt. Forrest Smith said.

“They have the right to sell, but the consumer may not know the law of the city that they live in,” Smith said.

Chandler asks vendors to voluntarily post signs or inform customers that fireworks use is illegal in the city.

“It seems that the people who have been here know what’s going on with the laws,” said Karl Ready, a vendor for Snap Fireworks. “We haven’t had to say too much about it. As it get closer to the Fourth, we’ll see.”

Fireworks can trigger fires even after they’ve been used; an alley fire broke out in Mesa a year ago when still-hot fireworks were tossed in a trash bin. The incident shows the importance of placing used or dud fireworks in a bucket of water before disposing of them, Smith said.

The noise from fireworks is a bigger concern in a farming town like Gilbert, Lewis said.

“We have three horses,” Lewis said. “On New Year’s Eve, it was very difficult for them.”

People who use fireworks should avoid yards because of dry vegetation, Smith said.

“The driveway seems to be the most safe spot,” Smith said.

Firefighters are more concerned about safety this year because so many more vendor tents have sprung up in the Valley since the last fireworks season in January.

Mesa issued 49 tent permits this month. Phantom Fireworks has 21 stands in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.

“We have seen a huge increase in them,” Smith said.

Mesa has responded by producing a safety video that begins airing Monday on its Channel 11. Also, firefighters plan a media event next week to publicize safety tips.

Garin Groff contributed to this report.

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