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Archive for Sunday, July 8, 2001

Fireworks aftermath

July 8, 2001

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Fireworks on the Fourth of July are as American as mom and apple pie, but does this traditional celebration create too many hazards and headaches?

When people think of the Fourth of July, they think of fireworks. They are a fun and spectacular way to celebrate America's independence.

Unlike many communities our size that limit fireworks to public displays, Lawrence permits individuals to discharge fireworks of their own. Various events this year, however, have once again called into question the wisdom of that expression of individual liberty.

Fireworks are the suspected cause in three structure fires that occurred in Lawrence this week. One of those fires destroyed four apartments, putting a number of people, including a group of visiting students from Slovakia, out of their homes. A fire Tuesday that destroyed $20,000 in play equipment in "Dad" Perry Park, 1200 Monterey Way, may also have been connected to fireworks.

A number of smaller grass or brush fires were attributed to fireworks, and residents noted many instances of people igniting fireworks unsafely or after the hours they were supposed to be allowed in the city. Some city residents may have been afraid to leave their homes unattended because of the potential fire hazard.

This isn't the first time Lawrence city officials have considered tougher regulations on fireworks, but the volume of fireworks and the number of annoyed residents resulting from this year's celebration is bringing this issue to city commissioners again.

The city, county and state all have a hand in regulating the sale and use of fireworks. Bottle rockets have been outlawed in Kansas for a number of years because of the fire threat they pose. The county allows fireworks sales, but only July 2 to 4. The sale of fireworks isn't allowed in the city, but residents can shoot fireworks from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on July 2 and 3 and until 11 p.m. July 4. Fireworks are not allowed in public streets or right of way.

People who safely handle and shoot fireworks during the prescribed hours probably aren't causing many problems, but, unfortunately, many people don't fall in that category. And fireworks restrictions are difficult to enforce. Police and fire officials usually are kept busy dealing with fires, traffic and other major incidents. If they have time to respond to complaints about people shooting fireworks after the allowed hours, the shooters usually are long gone by the time officers arrive.

The city has several options on the fireworks issue. Simply increasing enforcement of current laws is one possibility. Banning private fireworks in the city is another, although it would be an unpopular move. It also would be difficult to enforce a city ban on fireworks as long as fireworks can be sold in the county.

The city might consider allowing fireworks only in certain locations so they can be better monitored. Limiting fireworks just to public parks, for instance, would restrict the area, but if all the fireworks ignited in Lawrence on Wednesday night had been concentrated in the city's parks, both safety and cleanup would have been concerns.

Any new restrictions on fireworks would have to be accompanied by far greater enforcement efforts.

From the city's standpoint, fireworks probably are sort of an all-or-nothing proposition. You either allow fireworks and trust people to be responsible or you ban them altogether.

So far, city officials have taken the former approach, but if complaints and problems continue to grow, they may have to consider the latter alternative.

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