The Fourth of July was the first test of a new fireworks law

Posted at 3:13 PM, Jul 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 22:15:10-04

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah -- Firefighters across the Salt Lake Valley were kept up all night responding to fire calls related to fireworks.

The Unified Fire Authority said it received 45 calls to its dispatch center reporting fires, compared to 31 the year before. Firefighters said the fires, however, were smaller.

Valley Emergency Communications, which dispatches for a number of agencies, told FOX 13 it had 647 phone calls from 9 p.m. to midnight. Of those, 77 were reporting fires (minus duplicate calls).

"We were so busy all night long I don’t think our crews got any sleep at all," said Audra Sorensen, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Firefighters in Salt Lake City were inundated with calls. They were investigating if a fire that torched nine cars was related to fireworks.

"Last year on the Fourth of July, there weren’t nearly as many incidents. Which is ironic because the restrictions were clearer this year," Sorensen said.

The calls are another test of a new fireworks law that went into effect after catastrophic fires last year that threatened homes and destroyed property. Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said so far it was pretty well received.

"Overall it's been positive," he told FOX 13, crossing his fingers. "I’ve had some say you shouldn’t have changed anything, but most people think it made sense."

The new law changes included shrinking the number of days that people can legally set off fireworks to July 2-5 and July 22-25. There are increased fines and penalties, and municipalities can increase restrictions or, in some cases, implement bans.

"Rather than the state coming in and saying this is the way it’s going to be, there’s variance of different types of foliage and topography," Rep. Dunnigan said. "Let the local governments and they can do it."

Across Utah, restrictions varied. Communities like Salt Lake City and Herriman increased the restricted areas. Carbon County prohibited fireworks in unincorporated areas except in an area on the county fairgrounds on the Fourth of July.

Rep. Dunnigan expressed some concern about such strict measures, but conceded local authorities were the ones with the power to make that decision.

"I want people to have fun, respect your neighbors that have animals or veterans that have concerns about the booms going on," he said. "Have a good time, be safe."

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, also sponsored the fireworks bill. Unlike last year, when her phone was ringing off the hook, this year it was calm. She said she got two emails from constituents: one who felt the restrictions were too severe, and another who felt they didn't go far enough.

"This was such a compromise with the stakeholders. We want to see how it works, but we’re being tested," she said.

Rep. Dunnigan said he is content to see how this year goes before making any more changes to the law. But he told FOX 13 he is contemplating another change.

"I would like to start the sale of fireworks a little bit later, but there’s challenges with doing that. There’s so many stands and so many sellers, you have to start them earlier to get them signed off," he said, referring to inspections of the fireworks stands. "You just can’t do that in three days."