Fireworks: recreation or ridiculous?

Fireworks: recreation or ridiculous?

31 March 2008

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Hearing this week on Fourth of July restrictions will air public sentiment

Only Grass Valley residents would be allowed to buy fireworks within city limits this Independence Day, under a recommendation forwarded by Fire Chief Jim Marquis to the Grass Valley City Council.

People can comment on the idea at a special hearing starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Grass Valley City Hall. City Council members may vote on the recommendation after the hearing.

Historically, fireworks have sparked few wildland fires in western Nevada County, Marquis said. Local groups including charities and youth sports teams depend on the sales for a big chunk of their budgets.

But Grass Valley residents interviewed on Sunday were divided over whether it’s safe to have fireworks at all, many of them left skittish by the Angora Fire outside South Lake Tahoe last summer – though it was sparked not by fireworks but by an illegal campfire that burned out of control.

“I just don’t think we should have fireworks in the Sierras,” said 58-year-old Paul Engs, a resident of Alta Sierra. “Just look at the pine trees. Once a fire starts, it’s going to spread in no time. The fire department can’t be at all different places at the same time.

“They can continue the fireworks at the fairground. But the ones from the stands, (people) take them home to Alta Sierra from Grass Valley. It’s ridiculous.”

He “always goes to the fairgrounds on the Fourth of July,” Engs said. “I love fireworks. But I won’t do my own.”

“We shouldn’t have our own home and community at risk with fireworks in the hands of kids,” said a 45-year-old Grass Valley resident who asked not to be identified. “Having fireworks available for anyone is ridiculous.”

But 22-year-old Alfred Netz disagreed.

“There should be some places, like parking lots, where people should be able to start their own fireworks,” Netz said. “People have fun doing it. But it’s unsafe for people who live out in the woods, around lots of dry trees.”

He and his father light their own fireworks after watching the show at the fairgrounds every year, Netz said.

“Me and my friends, we buy a lot more fireworks than we should – almost $800 worth,” added 19-year-old Galen Humpal. “We go to one of the apartment complexes and set up a show for kids whose parents can’t afford fireworks. But we are very safe. We do have fun.”

Controlled use reduces risk

An increase in the volume of fuel over the years has heightened the risk of wildland fires, Marquis said.

At the same time, prohibiting fireworks entirely often increases fire occurrence, Marquis wrote in a staff report to the city.

A statewide study has shown “that providing a controlled area and time of use for … fireworks, generally reduced both fire occurrence as well as the impact on fire and law enforcement resources responding to fireworks complaints,” he added.

Having fireworks in areas designated by the city isn’t risky, Marquis said. The danger lies with people using fireworks that don’t meet California’s “Safe and Sane” standards, or setting them off in places outside those approved by the city, he said.

In Grass Valley, only “Safe and Sane” fireworks can be sold between June 28 and July 4. The fireworks can be lit only between 6 p.m. and midnight on Independence Day.

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