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Fireworks under fire

Matt Zalaznick

But because of Colorado’s severe dought, what won’t explode this Independence Day is fireworks – except in public displays.

While Gov. Bill Owens angered many Colorado firefighters Tuesday by not banning all private fireworks, fire restrictions in Eagle County already prohibit their use – except in public displays, such as Avon’s renowned annual exhibition.

“There’s absolutely no reason for fireworks in this area when we have the best pyrotechnical displays in the state,” said Chief Charlie Moore, of the Eagle River Fire Protection District. “We have a long history of fireworks-caused fires.”

The severe drought throughout most of the West has sent the risk of wildfires soaring throughout Colorado, including the Vail Valley.

Moore said any fireworks that leave the ground –such as bottle rockets – are already illegal to use. The Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Association, however, had urged Owens to ban even less explosive fireworks, such as sparklers.

Tuesday, Owens banned fireworks in state forests and asked Coloradans not to use fireworks at all. The governor said he has no authority to enforce his order in areas outside state control.

“”Every city and county in the state has to take their responsibility regarding fireworks very seriously and take immediate action,” Owens said.

Anyone violating Owens’ order could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and be fined up to $1,000. They also could be forced to reimburse the state for costs of fighting the fire.

Owens’ decision disappointed Moore, especially with fire danger so extreme in the parched Rocky Mountains.

“When we’re at maximum fire risk, the right decision would have been to ban them this year,” Moore said. “I think the state Legislature ought to ban them, period, because we still get fire from sparklers, and people still bring in illegal kinds and shoot them off anyway.”

Eagle County Sheriff A.J. Johnson imposed fire restrictions on May 9, seven weeks earlier than any type of restrictions were imposed last summer. The restrictions, which bar the use of fireworks, apply to all private and public lands in Eagle County, including areas managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Under the restrictions, smoking on BLM lands is also prohibited, except inside cars and trailers, buildings and tents. Smokers elsewhere should also be careful where they put out their cigarettes, Eagle County sheriff’s spokeswoman Kim Andree said.

“We’re asking that people who smoke don’t put cigarettes out of the car window,” Andree said. “Try and smoke on the patio and not while walking in forest. Use common sense to minimize the possibility of a fire.”

Campers are restricted to cooking on propane grills or grated fire pits in approved campground and picnic areas. Burning solid fuels outside designated areas is prohibited until officials decide the wildfire danger has abated.

“Right now, we have we have a heavy fire restriction and that includes all fireworks,” Johnson said. “Bottle rockets and things like that are all illegal. We have a lot of problem with those.”

According to the Colorado State Fire Chief’s Association, there were 21,700 fireworks-caused fires in the United States in 1998, the last year for which figures were available. Those fires caused $40 million in damage.

The presidents of the Colorado State Fire Chiefs’ Association, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Fire Marshals’ Association of Colorado had written Owens a letter asking him to ban fireworks.

“When things go wrong with fireworks, they go very wrong, very fast – far faster than any fire protection provisions can reliably respond,” the letter said. “During this drought emergency, Colorado cannot afford to have additional unintended fires.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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