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George Jensen uses a product scanner to see what different items will look like at Mad Matt’s Fireworks in Sandy.
Worker George Jensen uses a product scanner to see what different items will look like at Mad Matt’s Fireworks on the corner of 9000 South and State Street in Sandy on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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What most Utahns think should be done about fireworks amid this year’s drought

Only 16% of Utahns are against additional fireworks restrictions

Amid this year’s unprecedented drought, a vast majority of Utahns — 74% — believe fireworks shouldn’t be set off privately, or at all.

That’s according to a new Deseret News/Hinkley Institute of Politics poll, which found nearly three-quarters of Utahns aren’t adamant about lighting their own fireworks and would rather leave it to the professional at controlled, official shows or forgo them altogether.

Asked how they think fireworks should be regulated this summer in light of the drought, 39% of Utahns said only government entities should light fireworks during official events, and almost as many — 35% — said fireworks should not be used at all this year.

Only 16% said no additional fireworks restrictions should be put in place. About 9% weren’t sure, the poll found.

Independent pollster Scott Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 registered Utah voters from June 18 to June 26. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The poll’s results come just days before two separate windows of time when it will be legal to set off fireworks in nonrestricted areas next month, 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.

Ahead of the holidays, Utah’s political leaders including Gov. Spencer Cox as well as both Republican and Democratic local leaders from Salt Lake County have urged Utahns to forgo lighting personal fireworks this year, saying the risk of wildfire is too high amid the dry conditions.

If people do decide to light fireworks, they should first check if their area is restricted. Salt Lake County residents can use an interactive map to see where fireworks are and aren’t prohibited this year. But just because the map shows fireworks are legal one day, that doesn’t mean the map can’t be updated later to reflect new restrictions when they’re announced. Residents are advised to check back before lighting any fireworks.

Additionally, a statewide list of local fireworks restrictions is updated on the Utah Department of Public Safety’s website. If Utahns have any questions about whether their area is restricted, they should contact their local governments for more information.

Worker Zelda Jensen adjusts products at Mad Matt’s Fireworks on the corner of 9000 South and State Street in Sandy on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Worker Zelda Jensen adjusts products at Mad Matt’s Fireworks on the corner of 9000 South and State Street in Sandy on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

If he could, the governor has said he would ban fireworks statewide because of the drought, but he said state attorneys have told him that’s not within his power. He’s already issued a fireworks ban in areas that are under his authority: state land and unincorporated private land.

For more restrictions, Cox urged cities to enact their own bans, even though he acknowledged state law detailing what cities can or can’t ban regarding fireworks is “messy.”

Technically, Utah law doesn’t permit cities to enact sweeping citywide bans on fireworks. But some city leaders, including Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall have decided to enact complete bans, arguing this summer’s exceptionally dry conditions have led to extreme risk across the city.

But other local leaders, including those from other foothill cities like Sandy and Draper, have said they believe they’ve implemented as much of a ban on fireworks as they can under their interpretations of Utah law — and they won’t go further, fearing the risk of getting sued. Instead, they’ve urged state lawmakers to clarify the law and give them the power to ban fireworks citywide, especially in years of dire drought conditions.

Utah law states cities can prohibit lighting of fireworks using a list of locations: In “mountainous, brush-covered, forest-covered, or dry grass-covered areas;” within “200 feet of waterways, trails, canyons, washes, ravines, or similar areas;” in “wildland urban interface” areas; or in “a limited area outside the hazardous areas described.”

Or cities can ban fireworks using a different section of the code, which requires officials to designate an area using certain rules and submit a written description or a map that is readily available to the public.

Despite calls from Utah House Democrats for the Legislature to enter a special session to grant cities more “local control” over fireworks bans, legislative leaders are not interested.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, has said he does not “believe it is necessary” at this time. He also expressed hope that “local leaders will determine what works best in their communities and that Utahns will act reasonably and responsibly.”

However, lawmakers are expected to address Utah’s fireworks ban statute in the 2022 general session in January, according to Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. It’s not yet clear what lawmakers will do, whether they’ll allow more flexibility for cities or even allow a statewide ban in extreme drought.

The poll shows most Utahns aren’t adamant about lighting off their own fireworks this year, and that could inform future policy.

“It certainly gives us information that we could use,” Vickers said.

But what Vickers said he found most “intriguing” about the poll, he said, “is it tells me most people are going to be responsible about it.”

Fireworks sit on tables at Mad Matt’s Fireworks on the corner of 9000 South and State Street in Sandy on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Fireworks sit on tables at Mad Matt’s Fireworks on the corner of 9000 South and State Street in Sandy on Monday, June 28, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Vickers also mused that an all-out ban could inflame the problem.

“If you tell somebody that you can’t do it, then somebody’s going to want to go do it, and those are the ones that get us in trouble,” he said.

While the poll shows most Utahns don’t see the need to use personal fireworks this year, Vickers said he has heard from some constituents who fall in the 16% who are against any additional restrictions and who would oppose an all-out ban.

“Some people feel like a ban is a restriction on their freedom,” Vickers said, though he also added most people he’s heard from are “pretty comfortable leaving it up to local governments to decide.”

On cities like Salt Lake City and Park City that have decided to enact sweeping bans, Vickers said it’s likely they won’t meet any pushback this year from the Legislature.

“Now, technically they can’t do a citywide ban,” he said. “But I’ll be honest with you, under (this year’s conditions) I don’t think there’s going to be much pushback on that.”

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