Archive for Thursday, December 30, 1999


December 30, 1999


Dry weather means no legal fireworks inside Lawrence city limits to celebrate the arrival of 2000.

The new year will come to Lawrence with a little less bang after fire officials imposed a burn ban Wednesday, extinguishing New Year's Eve fireworks.

The decision spoiled the fun for some celebrants and left fireworks stand operators wondering what will become of sales and leftover inventory.

The citywide ban was prompted by a National Weather Service Rangeland Fire Danger Index that showed northeast Kansas to have a "very high" fire danger.

"That means fire starts easily from most any ignition source, spreads rapidly and is very hard to control," said Jim McSwain, chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.

Douglas County Commissioners failed Wednesday night to follow the city's suit. Commission Chairman Dean Nieder said he had standing water on some of his property and a neighbor who was stuck in mud Wednesday.

"I don't feel like it's anywhere near dry enough to issue a burning ban in the rural areas," Nieder said.

Nieder said he hadn't heard from any of the rural fire chiefs expressing concern about conditions.

But the county decision held little comfort for fireworks dealers, who look to Lawrence city dwellers for 80 percent of their business.

"We decided we're not going to sell," said Gary Bartz, owner of Don's Steakhouse and operator of two fireworks stand outside city limits. "This is pretty discouraging."

Bartz said he has purchased about $20,000 in inventory that will have to wait until July to be sold.

Some won't be sold then. About 20 of the 45 items Bartz was going to stock were millennium-related.

Bartz said he thinks fire officials used the National Weather Service warning to impose a ban they had wanted from the beginning.

"I think the fire department merely took advantage of that," Bartz said.

McSwain said concerns about the millennium's arrival caused him to staff two additional medical units and an extra fire pumper for the night.

"We felt earlier like the additional potential of using fireworks could pose a strain on our resources," he said.

The dry conditions only compounded his worries, he said.

As if to support McSwain's position, a small grass fire was reported shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday at 1503 W. Third. There was no damage, but the cause was believed to be fireworks.

Anyone caught violating the fireworks ban could face a $200 fine or 30 days in jail, McSwain said, adding he hoped people would comply.

"I'm pretty optimistic," he said. "Most people will do what's right for the community. I think most people respect these kind of issues, especially when there's good reason behind it."

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is

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