Fireworks changes likely afoot

Commissioners lean toward new restrictions for Independence Day revelry

Independence Day 2002 didn’t bring a repeat of the fireworks-fueled conflagration that gutted a Colorado Street apartment building in 2001. But city commissioners still are ready to cut the fuse on Lawrence’s wide-open fireworks rules.

“I think we got lucky,” Commissioner David Dunfield said Friday. “I think we need to get this on the agenda and discuss it. And I think we’ll have a different fireworks policy next year.”

Thousands of spent firecracker casings litter the Prairie Park School parking lot after Independence Day. Lawrence city commissioners say they'll reconsider the city's fireworks ordinances.

That would be just fine with Beverly Boyd. The Kansas University English professor said that while she didn’t like the idea of more city ordinances, it was time.

“I’ve been in France on Bastille Day, and this was just as bad as that,” Boyd said Friday of fireworks misuse in her neighborhood. “I don’t think the kids know what they’re doing, and how dangerous it is.”

While the past few days have been difficult, Friday morning dawned on a new problem. “I looked out there this morning and the place was carpeted with (debris from) fireworks,” Boyd said.

The city allows fireworks use three days a year, July 2-4. Sales inside city limits are prohibited, but fireworks can be stored if done in accordance with safety codes.

After last year’s fire, commissioners said they might restrict fireworks use after this Independence Day season. First, the city sponsored fliers, newspaper advertisements and radio spots promoting fireworks safety in the weeks leading to the Fourth of July. One flier urged fireworks safety and encouraged users to be respectful of their neighbors.

The fliers might have done their job.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical received only three fireworks-related calls during the three-day period, Deputy Chief Mark Bradford said. One was a small fire Thursday on the siding of a house in the 400 block of Wisconsin Street; the fire had been extinguished by the time firefighters arrived.

The other two calls were to check a hand burn Wednesday and to investigate a report of a man using gasoline to ignite fireworks the same day.

“We informed him that was not a good idea,” Bradford said.

Bradford said he was surprised there weren’t more fireworks-related calls.

“Maybe more people were being safer this year,” Bradford said.

Busy holiday

Belinda Reimer, spokeswoman for Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said there had been eight fireworks-related emergency room visits during the three days. Four were for burns; all the injuries were minor, she said.

“That’s about normal for us on the Fourth of July,” she said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office responded to a half-dozen fireworks-related calls during the same period.

“Overall it seemed like a pretty good Fourth of July,” Lt. Kathy Tate said.

Lawrence Police had not yet compiled numbers by Friday. They knew of no serious incidents, but said they had received quite a few calls.

“There were a good number of fireworks-related calls over the three days,” said Sgt. Richard Nickell. “Historically, that’s the way it usually is.”

Trash complaints

Nickell also said he had fielded complaints by phone Friday from people who were upset about debris and trash left in streets and along curbs throughout the city. There were also calls about people who were using fireworks past the 11 p.m. deadline on Thursday.

City Manager Mike Wildgen said his office had received about a half-dozen calls and e-mails about fireworks use.

“It was a little mixed,” he said. “Several said it was time to eliminate the noise and the smoke in the houses. Others said, ‘We’re responsible fireworks users and we cleaned up after ourselves.'”

Commissioner Jim Henry, however, said he saw more problems than benefits. He’s ready to draw up new restrictions.

“I drove around town last night, and the sky was alive with big boomers that belong in a public display, not in somebody’s back yard,” he said Friday. “I thought it was outrageous.”

In a survey before Independence Day, four of Lawrence’s five commissioners said they were leaning toward tightening the rules.

Staff writer Mike Belt contributed to this report.