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After firework mishap sets Herriman field ablaze, neighbors call for tightening restrictions

Posted at 10:05 PM, Jul 08, 2019

HERRIMAN, Utah — People in a Herriman neighborhood want the city to tighten fireworks restrictions after an accident with an aerial firework over the weekend set a field on fire next to homes.

The small dead-end street near the field sits against a popular gathering place — a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse.

"We have a church behind us, and it seems to be the place where people like to congregate," said Sherrell Nokes, who lives near the meetinghouse.

When she says 'congregate,' however, she means more than people going there to worship.

She says dozens of people gather in the parking lot over the 4th of July and Pioneer Day holidays.

"They like to tailgate, they bring family and friends, and they set off thousands and thousands of dollars of fireworks," Nokes said.

She and other neighbors said it's gotten increasingly crowded over the past three years. Right across Patriot Ridge Drive from the meetinghouse, all neighborhoods on that road and south are in the firework restriction zone.

Nokes and neighbor Tara Thompson said people come to the church parking lot to light fireworks off instead.

On Saturday evening — a night when fireworks were illegal to set off in Utah — Nokes and Thompson said an aerial firework lit in that parking lot exploded in the field next to the meetinghouse, which borders their backyards.

Flames immediately formed and began to light up the field.

Thompson found out about the fire behind her home when a young woman banged on her front door.

"She said, 'I'm so, so sorry,'" Thompson recounted. "'You're going to want to get out of your house, maybe go turn on your sprinklers. There's a fire behind your house.'"

Thompson said the young apologetic lady told her that an aerial firework she lit off had tipped over.

"I was terrified. Terrified," Thompson said. She said her son and husband were sleeping, so she woke them up and they quickly evacuated.

They stood and watched the flames. Thompson recorded cellphone video of the fire.

She and Nokes indicated they thought help would arrive quickly because a Unified Fire Authority station sits on the other side of the field.

"Here we are thinking, 'We're safe because we live next to the fire department,'" Nokes said. "And, they're not even here to put it out."

That's because she and Thompson said the department had been called out to a different fire, so another station needed to respond.

"I just couldn't imagine how long it might take to get to my house," Thompson said.

Firefighters arrived and averted the crisis.

Nokes said she's complained to authorities over the past three years, including the fire marshal, Herriman City and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Herriman City Police said Unified Fire Authority was investigating Saturday's grass fire. UFA indicated that no citations were handed out, and Herriman PD said both agencies aim to utilize education before handing out criminal citations when responding to incidents.

The parking lot is private property, which means police can't force people to leave — that's up to the property owner. When Fox 13 reached out to the LDS Church to ask about fireworks policies in meetinghouse parking lots, they pointed out what's written in the Church's Handbook 2.

“Church buildings and other property are to be used for worship, religious instruction, and other Church-related activities," the handbook says.

“The use of Church property should not pose a significant risk of harm to participants or to the property," it states. "Nor should it unduly expose the Church to liability or disturb surrounding neighbors.”

Nokes and Thompson want restrictions in the area to change, especially when it comes to lighting off fireworks next to the field.

"I would like Herriman City to step up and say, 'Okay, this area is a fire hazard. It is extremely close to homes,' and make it restricted," she said.

At the very least, they don't want a repeat come Pioneer Day.