SALT LAKE CITY — A group that represents some of the fireworks industry is warning that cities might face lawsuits over all-out bans of personal fireworks this year.
Faced with an ongoing drought emergency and potentially catastrophic wildfires, cities have enacted some tough restrictions on personal fireworks. Some communities are limiting them to public parks, where firefighters can be on hand.
But others have banned them outright. Within the past week, the cities of Ogden, Midvale, Holladay, Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Eagle Mountain and South Weber have blocked any personal fireworks from being set off around the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day holidays.
Fireworks are still allowed to be sold, even if they can't be set off in July.
"Cities, towns, the state placing some additional restrictions certainly makes some sense," Dave Davis, the head of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13. "Where our concern comes is when cities appear to go beyond the scope of the statute that is out there in banning fireworks altogether in their cities."
Davis said the legislature "walked a very fine line" when it passed fireworks legislation giving local communities more power to enact bans.
"They have delegated to the local jurisdictions the ability to restrict the discharge within their communities based on individual circumstances. But they also made it clear that total bans are not permitted except in very rare circumstances," he said.
It's how different cities are interpreting the law that has led to conflict. Some communities — where there is no urban core or safe place to set off fireworks — may be legally able to outright ban personal fireworks. But Davis believes an all-out ban like some cities have done runs afoul of the law.
He also warned there could be lawsuits over the bans.
"This is something that could devastate a particular industry. I know that there are many within the fireworks industry that feel like, 'Look, what cities are doing all out bans are engaging in is a violation of the statute that is out there,'" Davis told FOX 13.
Governor Spencer Cox has backed cities that are banning fireworks. He considered issuing his own ban via an executive order, but was told he legally couldn't do it. The governor has said he would support changes to the law to create an automatic personal fireworks ban in areas where there is exceptional drought (of which a large part of the state is in right now).
"I’m personally for it but I don’t know if that would ever pass, because we want to give local control," said Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay.
Sen. Iwamoto, who co-sponsors fireworks legislation each year with her counterpart, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said the law is not explicit about whether cities and towns can enact all-out bans. She told FOX 13 it will likely be revisited when the legislature meets for the 2022 session starting in January, as will Gov. Cox's request for automatic firework bans in areas of exceptional drought.
Sen. Iwamoto said she has heard from constituents who are passionately pro-fireworks and those who are very outspoken against fireworks because of drought, fire and noise-related issues. She said they will be meeting with cities, firefighters and fireworks industry representatives as they plan future tweaks to the law.
"We will definitely be listening to all sides of it," Sen. Iwamoto said.
Correction: The broadcast version of this story indicated Millcreek issued a total ban. That city has issued a partial ban. The City of Midvale issued a total ban.