SALT LAKE CITY — With the entire state in drought conditions and wildfires already keeping crews busy, the governor and firefighters pleaded with people to consider skipping personal fireworks this year.
"We encourage citizens to forego personal fireworks shows this year," West Jordan Fire Chief Derek Maxfield said at a news conference on Thursday.
Governor Spencer Cox said the entire state is in drought, and 83% of Utah is in "extreme" drought conditions. Utah has already been dealing with wildfires, including some close to heavily populated areas.
"As you look at a day like today where it’s windy, hot and dry," said Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Brian Steed. "Those are the perfect conditions for a catastrophic set of circumstances."
Fireworks sales are getting under way, even though it will not be legal to set them off until a few days before and after the Fourth of July and Pioneer Day holidays. Concerned about the wildfire risk and limited firefighting resources, cities across Utah have already started enacting restrictions.
"We’ve got nearly half of the city of South Jordan under restrictions on the west side and a large portion on the east side," said South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey. "There’s so much at risk right now? It’s just not worth the risk."
Mayor Ramsey said she believed people would do the right thing. In fact, the Utah Department of Natural Resources documented a 51% drop in human-caused wildfires last year that they attribute to increased awareness about the drought and fire danger.
"Everyone’s mindful that we are in a drought. Everyone knows that," the mayor said.
Utah law does not allow cities or the state to enact all-out bans on fireworks, but communities can enact strict restrictions. Some have limited personal fireworks to a handful of city parks or neighborhoods. Gov. Cox has expressed a desire to be able to ban fireworks in extreme fire situations, but the Utah State Legislature has been reluctant to even take it up.
"I like that we give municipalities more authority. I think we could give them even a little more," the governor said Thursday. "There are some places or times where maybe it’s not appropriate to have any fireworks. We certainly haven't gone that far yet, but it’s certainly worth looking at."