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Archive for Friday, September 13, 2002

Fireworks ban may fizzle out

September 13, 2002

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Officials may cut the fuse on a proposed fireworks ban in Lawrence.

While acknowledging that sentiment on the city commission runs in favor of a ban, Mayor Sue Hack on Thursday sounded disposed to finding an alternative.

"A lot of the problem is illegal fireworks being brought in from outside" the state, she told local fireworks sellers. "I understand you don't want to be blamed for that."

More than a dozen vendors  including members of the newly formed Douglas County Fireworks Assn.  met Thursday with Hack and Douglas County Commission Chairman Jere McElhaney.

The sellers estimate that 40 percent of fireworks used in Lawrence come from outside the county. Many of the imports are items illegal in Kansas, such as bottle rockets that can be purchased legally in Missouri.

"We're afraid if fireworks are banned in the city, more people will go to Missouri to buy the bottle rockets," said Eric Garrett of K-10 Fireworks.

The city currently allows fireworks' use during selected hours three days a year, July 2-4. Sales inside city limits are prohibited, but they flourish in the unincorporated parts of Douglas County, and city residents can store their own fireworks if done in accordance with safety codes.

After a fireworks-related apartment fire in 2001, though, city commissioners began to consider a possible ban. City officials also have complained about copious amounts of fireworks refuse left on streets and in city parks after the July Fourth holiday.

The vendors said Thursday the apartment fire was caused by an illegal bottle rocket. But Jim McSwain, chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, said an investigation determined it was caused by legal fireworks.

Garrett, secretary of the new fireworks association, said sellers would accept a ban on certain types of now-legal pyrotechnics, such as metal-handled sparklers that often burn the users and flimsy "punks" used to light other fireworks. He said association members are also ready to step up their public education efforts on safe fireworks use.

"Ninety-nine percent of all the accidents are because of fireworks misuse," said Jason Mariette of Jake's Fireworks. "You have more injuries with lighters than you do with fireworks."

But the vendors were skeptical about compromise proposals Hack offered, including a shortened period for fireworks use and a ban on aerial fireworks that rise above a certain height.

"You want them to go high so that they burn out before they hit the ground," said Gerald Pine of Pine's Fireworks.

The vendors said they would submit a formal proposal to city and county leaders in coming weeks.

"Our No. 1 objective is safety," Mariette said. "If something happens, it's a black eye on all of us."

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