While many Americans are planning to celebrate our nation’s independence over the 4th of July weekend, local fire officials are preparing for problems that could happen now that the Arizona legislature has made some fireworks legal.

State lawmakers passed a bill in May 2010 that made some types of fireworks legal. The law went into effect in November 2010.

“When this legislation first passed we were all automatically concerned because people need to understand that just because they are legal doesn’t mean they have become any safer,” said Capt. Adam Goldberg, spokesman for the Northwest Fire District. “We are in an extremely high fire environment. As firefighters, we are beyond scared. We are terrified about what July 4th weekend is going to bring.”

Not all fireworks are included in the new law. Still forbidden to the average citizen is anything that flies above the ground or explodes in the air. That is because those things – including bottle rockets and roman candles – require the employment of a licensed pyrotechnic expert. Citizens are now able to purchase things such as ground and hand-held sparklers, cone fountains, illuminating torches and ground spinners.

The City of Tucson has banned the use of fireworks despite the state law; however, Marana and Oro Valley have not passed stricter regulations.

Still, local fire officials are united in asking the general public to use common sense this year and not use fireworks at all, considering the state of emergency Arizona is in because of five wildfires burning.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Randy Karrer, fire chief of the Golder Ranch Fire District. “The humidity is in the single digits. With the desert conditions we are in, we need to limit these types of ignition sources.”

Karrer said he cannot figure out what the Arizona Legislature was thinking when it passed a bill to allow any fireworks. Most fireworks are used on July 4th, which Karrer stressed is the state’s driest time of year.

“I have been in fire service since 1980,” he said. “I have never seen such tender conditions as we are seeing now. Things are burning like never before. The last thing I want to do is respond to some brush fire that was caused by a firework that spreads and burns down someone’s home or even kills someone.”

Despite the warning to residents to not use fireworks at all, Goldberg and Karrer said they understand some may feel it is safe.

To those residents planning to use the ground fireworks anyway, fire officials ask that they have a water hose and fire extinguisher nearby, keep such ignition sources as lighters and matches out of the reach of children, and stay away from dry brush and fields.

Because of the dry conditions, Karrer said firefighters are staying on heightened alert with a full-time severity truck standing by now.

Goldberg and Karrer said they will have more personnel on duty during the July 4th weekend because of people who will ignore the warnings and ignite fireworks anyway. If something goes wrong, fire officials said they have to be prepared to act immediately to prevent a fire from spreading quickly. 

Adding on-duty personnel is hard this year because all fire departments are short staffed. With all the wildfires in Arizona, firefighters are being sent in to assist, leaving fewer on hand to help locally, Karrer said.

The closest of the fires is the Monument Fire near Sierra Vista, which has burned nearly 30,000 acres since starting June 12. It is threatening businesses and homes and has the Fort Huachuca Army Base concerned about its southern border.

The Horseshoe Fire to the east, near the Arizona/New Mexico border, is the longest burning to date, starting on May 8. While nearly contained, the human-caused fire has burned more than 200,000 acres.

The Wallow Fire, which started May 29, has burned more than 500,000 acres, becoming the worst fire in Arizona history. The cause of the fire burning 23 miles southwest of Alpine is still unknown.

The Godfrey fire, located 14 miles south of Animas, started on June 13 for an unknown reason. The fire has burned more than 10,000 acres.

In total, Karrer said 865 firefighters from departments statewide are battling wildfires.

Because the issue surrounding fireworks is not isolated to this year, Karrer said he is in the process of writing regulations that will be introduced to the Oro Valley Town Council. Marana has no plans to adopt stricter regulations at this time.

Fire officials ask residents not to use fireworks at all

For those who will use them anyway, take the following safety steps:

• Do not let children handle fireworks.

• Keep ignition sources, such as lighters and matches, put away.

• Keep a water hose and fire extinguisher nearby.

• Avoid dry brush and grass.

• Soak the area after finishing with water.

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