clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

‘We’re in a tinderbox’: Salt Lake City mayor bans fireworks citywide

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks about a citywide ban on fireworks, recreational fires and open burning in response to the extreme drought and high temperatures during a press conference at the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Professional fireworks displays will still happen. The ban is expected to last through Pioneer Day.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall talks about a citywide ban on fireworks, recreational fires and open burning in response to the extreme drought and high temperatures during a press conference at the City-County Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Professional fireworks displays will still happen. The ban is expected to last through Pioneer Day.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Citing extreme fire danger amid the West’s unprecedented drought, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced Tuesday personal fireworks and open fires will be banned citywide in Utah’s capital.

“Our foothills, open spaces, and even our yards and park strips are dry and could be ignited by a single spark. They threaten life, safety and property here in Salt Lake City,” Mendenhall said. “And so that’s why I’m announcing a citywide ban on class C fireworks.”

“Class C” fireworks, or personal fireworks, include those commonly sold at neighborhood fireworks stands. They also include smoke bombs and sparklers, Mendenhall said.

The city is also banning “open burning,” the mayor announced, including recreational fires — or any fire built outside for the purpose of cooking or warming.

The ban, which takes effect on Tuesday, will be in effect “until further notice,” Mendenhall said.

The citywide ban was possible under state law, the mayor said, thanks to Salt Lake City Fire Marshal Anthony Allred’s determination that amid this year’s exceptionally dry conditions, all of Salt Lake City is essentially a tinderbox waiting to go up in flames.

“Our fire marshal and our fire department, who are really the best and most capable experts in the city to evaluate the fire conditions, have determined that, essentially, the city is combustible,” Mendenhall said at a news conference outside the Salt Lake City-County building on Tuesday.

“There are combustible conditions present throughout Salt Lake City, not just in our wildlife and wildlife interfacing areas,” the mayor said, pointing to the grass surrounding City Hall, where some patches not shaded by Washington Square’s large trees are beginning to brown.

Mendenhall said she has “full confidence” in the city fire marshal’s assessment.

“There has never been a greater concern by these experts about the threat of fire to Salt Lake City,” the mayor said. “We take their recommendation seriously. We know it’s not made lightly. But it’s done with the health and the safety of the residents, businesses and our firefighters in mind.”

Mendenhall pointed to wildfires that have burned homes in nearby states like California.

Bonneville Hotshots and Unified Fire Authority trucks sit at crews fight a wildfire in Morgan Canyon in Tooele County on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. The fire started after a plane crash.
Bonneville Hotshots and Unified Fire Authority trucks sit at crews fight a wildfire in Morgan Canyon in Tooele County on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. The fire started after a plane crash.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We’ve seen communities in neighboring Western states be absolutely leveled by urban wildfires in recent years, and we can’t take unnecessary risks that may put us in Salt Lake City in that same position,” Mendenhall said.

“I know this might feel like a loss of a beloved tradition for all of those Salt Lakers who love their driveway fireworks. And I understand it’s disappointing. But given our current climate, it’s simply not worth the risk.”

The mayor instead encouraged Salt Lake City residents to attend professional, city-hosted fireworks shows, which are traditionally held at Jordan Park on the Fourth of July and at Liberty Park on July 24. She said those are “properly managed and safely done.”

Salt Lake City joined Park City and Holladay as cities that have now issued citywide bans on personal fireworks heading into the month of July, when Utahns will be legally able to light fireworks — in nonrestricted areas — from July 2 to July 5 to celebrate the Fourth of July, and July 22 to July 25 to celebrate Pioneer Day on July 24.

While Utah Democrats have called for a special session to give cities more flexibility to issue citywide bans on fireworks, arguing current law makes it too difficult, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, issued a statement Monday arguing the state has “taken steps to empower local officials rather than imposing a statewide ban.”

“I do not believe it is necessary for the Legislature to hold a special session at this time,” Wilson tweeted. “Instead, it is my hope that local leaders will determine what works best in their communities and that Utahns will act reasonably and responsibly as we celebrate Independence Day and Pioneer Day together.”

Under Utah law, local leaders are able to enact bans on use of fireworks in areas deemed risky due to “historical hazardous environmental conditions,” using a map they must submit to the county before June 1. Or, cities can make the case that their entire boundaries are vulnerable, based on evaluations made by fire marshals or legislative bodies if that authority isn’t delegated.

Mendenhall explained that the legal “pathway” Salt Lake City took in order to enact a citywide ban under state law “allows for basically four different descriptions of vulnerability of the landscape. And all of those descriptions of the combustible nature of Salt Lake City right now apply to the fire marshal and the department’s evaluation of the city.”

“Under those conditions, or under even one of those conditions, the legislative body or the delegated authority, which in our case is the fire marshal ... can make that determination,” Mendenhall said.

The Salt Lake City ban does not prohibit the sale of fireworks, only the use of personal fireworks.

Salt Lake City Fire Chief Karl Lieb acknowledged the city’s fire department can only do so much to enforce the ban.

“But the fact that people will violate the order is not justification to ignore this common sense,” Lieb said. “People across the city are concerned about their safety. Residents are concerned for their property. Business owners are concerned for their livelihood. And I’m concerned about the firefighters.”

Violation of the ban is a class B misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000, Lieb said.

“Enforcement is a challenge,” Lieb acknowledged. “It won’t be just for this year, but it has been in the past as well, because we have people that are going to ignite these fireworks in banned areas.”

Lieb said the city’s fire department will work with the Salt Lake City Police Department to find violators.

The ban “sends a message that the weather is extreme and the conditions are really bad,” the chief said.

“We are in a tinderbox right now,” he said. “So do the right thing. Celebrate the holidays, but let’s celebrate them without private fireworks.”