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Fourth of July fireworks: Did Utahns behave themselves?

No major fires reported from fireworks, but ‘we’re not out of the woods,’ fire officials say

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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

There were still some troublemakers, but for the most part Utahns answered the calls of local leaders and fire officials to exercise extreme caution over the Fourth of July weekend.

No major fires broke out across Utah, which is among the states choking on the West’s “megadrought.” Local agencies reported some fireworks-caused blazes here and there, but they were snuffed out early before they could grow. No houses burned. No lives were lost.

But leaders are hoping Utahns’ generally good behavior will continue through Pioneer Day on July 24 — when fireworks will be legal again starting July 22 through July 25.

“We’re so grateful that many Utahns chose to forgo personal fireworks this weekend,” Gov. Spencer Cox’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We hope that continues through the July 24 holiday.”

It was “great” that Utah didn’t see any “significant fires over the weekend due to fireworks,” said Kait Webb, spokeswoman and prevention coordinator with the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands on Tuesday. In fact, the state didn’t see any major fires at all spark over the weekend — with or without fireworks.

“So people were definitely exercising fire sense and being responsible,” Webb said. “We’re hoping that this is the trend that will continue through (to Pioneer Day on July 24). Not to let our guard down yet, but we definitely saw positive actions over the weekend by the public being a little more responsible with fireworks and choosing to exercise fire sense.”

Ryan Love, spokesman for Unified Fire Authority, a fire agency that serves about 430,000 residents in Salt Lake County — including east-side suburbs nestled in the Wasatch’s foothills like Cottonwood Heights, Holladay and Millcreek — said Utahns passed with flying colors for their fire sense over this year’s Fourth of July weekend.

“They get an A+,” Love said Tuesday. “The fire departments are extremely grateful for the behavior of our residents.”

The A+ grade is even though Unified Fire Authority responded to about 200 calls on the agency’s nonemergency line from residents reporting fireworks in restricted areas, Love said.

Unified also responded to 12 calls for small fires, including two that were grass fires. The rest were dumpster fires, where fireworks users failed to properly soak their fireworks in water overnight before throwing them away, Love said.

“Still A+,” he said, “because we expected far worse.”

Love said fire officials “realize that residents are going to do what they’re used to,” and just because fireworks are banned in certain areas “that doesn’t mean we’re going to get full compliance.”

But compared to July last year, Unified’s fireworks nuisance calls are already way down, Love said. He said last year’s illegal fireworks calls (including both the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day weekends) totaled 600. At 200, that figure is already pacing much lower.

“Looking at the numbers comparatively, residents in Salt Lake County have done a really good job,” he said.

Agencies were still compiling their reports Tuesday, so Webb didn’t have a full tally of fires on state and unincorporated lands, but Webb said there were some incidents reported where “people were using fireworks irresponsibly or things got out of hand and there were fires caused by them, but they were caught small and very quick.”

Some of those occurred in Uintah County, she said, but they were put out before they exceeded one-tenth of an acre and no structures were damaged.

In Utah’s capital city, where fireworks were banned citywide, the firefighters were kept busy — but Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Tony Stowe also didn’t have any major fires to report and none caused by fireworks.

Stowe said Saturday proved to be the busiest day, with a “significant” increase in calls from last year. Frustrated residents who saw or heard their neighbors illegally lighting off fireworks weren’t shy about reporting the violations.

However, “in general,” Stowe said, “it seems like the fireworks ban was helpful.”

“That’s thousands of dollars — maybe millions of dollars — in property loss that we didn’t experience,” Stowe said. “We didn’t burn up any mountains. That’s always a good sign.”

The Salt Lake City Fire Department responded to 31 fireworks complaints, of which 24 were given warnings, according to Stowe. Salt Lake firefighters also responded to three structure fires not caused by fireworks, including one detached garage that was likely an accident, an accidental fire at a commercial structure, and an intentional fire at a vacant commercial structure. They also responded to one grass fire where suspects burning insulation off of copper wire started a field on fire.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a statement urging residents to continue to be careful.

“Fireworks continue to pose a big threat to our city as we experience dire drought conditions,” the mayor said. “We’re thankful that there were no large fires over the past weekend and hope people will continue abiding by the firework restrictions our city’s fire marshal has in place for our protection.”

Some Salt Lake City residents did “push back” against the fireworks ban, “which you would expect,” Stowe said.

“There will always be (those who violate the ban),” Stowe said. “Anytime something is taken away that we’ve had in the past, it definitely raises some eyebrows. But overall we had support of (residents) concerned about their property, people concerned about the wildland interface ... or any of these grassy areas on the west side.”

East-side Salt Lake City residents — particularly those living in the foothills of Capitol Hill — are especially concerned about the risk of fireworks to their neighborhoods, Stowe said. “If anybody were to light off so much as a sparkler, they’re going to get a lot of pushback from their neighbors.”

It wasn’t clear how many Utahns were cited for illegally lighting off fireworks. Local police agencies were still sorting through their reports and didn’t have that information readily available on Tuesday.

But Stowe said Salt Lake police were out enforcing the city’s fireworks ban. If cited, he warned the punishment isn’t just a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail — but if the fireworks lead to a firefighter response and damage, that person found liable would also be required to pay for the damage.

“The most important part is you have to pay for all of the hours of fire response, all the equipment ... the water, the overall cost of the fire may land in your lap,” he said.

Fire officials urged Utahns to stay diligent — and don’t be complacent heading into the upcoming Pioneer Day celebrations.

“We’re not out of the woods,” Webb said.

Salt Lake County residents can use an interactive map to see where fireworks are and aren’t prohibited this year. But even though the map shows fireworks are legal one day, it can be updated later to reflect new restrictions when they’re announced. Check back before lighting any personal fireworks for Pioneer Day.