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The City Journals

Neighborhood fires lead to new ordinance banning fireworks

Jul 25, 2017 10:36AM ● By Cassie Goff

Utah Representative Marie Poulson and Cottonwood Heights council members discuss state laws relative to fireworks after the city passes an ordinance to ban aerial fireworks. (Cassie Goff/ City Journals)

By Cassie Goff  |  [email protected]

Over the July 4 holiday, several fires affected the lives of Cottonwood Heights’ residents. One fire began in the field behind the Memorial Mountain View Mortuary, Cemetery and Pet Garden, which is located at 3115 East Bengal Blvd., and spanned the entire lot by Bywater Park on Banbury Road. Another fire began in an empty field behind Porcupine Grill, on Racquet Club Drive.

The fires burned 25 acres of land along with two homes, a backyard shed, many fences, a play area and half of the back field. Luckily, all of the fires were extinguished by Unified Fire Authority (UFA) crews with help from residents.

As a result, many residents urged Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore and the Cottonwood Heights City Council to ban fireworks throughout the city altogether, especially with the July 24 holiday quickly approaching.

Presently, Cottonwood Heights enforces Title 9 of the Cottonwood Heights Code of Ordinances, which states that fireworks are restricted in or near designated wildland interface areas and public parks.

A wildlife interface area is defined in the code as “ravines, gullies, hillsides, vacant land, or mountainous areas where natural vegetation (oak brush, conifers, sage brush, and other indigenous trees and plants) exist such that a distinct fire hazard is clearly evident to a reasonable person.”

These fire restrictions are as follows: “discharging or using any kind of aerial device firework, tracer ammunition or other pyrotechnic devices on, over, or within 300 feet of, any wildland interface area in the city is prohibited.”

Beyond the firework restrictions around wildland interface areas and public parks, the UFA restricts what cities can and cannot enforce regarding fireworks. “Utah state law limits the laws that a city can enact to restrict or ban fireworks,” Public Information Officer Dan Metcalf said.

On July 11, more than 20 residents came to voice their concerns about firework restrictions to the city council during their bi-weekly business meeting.

“You have a huge responsibility to mitigate risk,” resident Emily Winhold said.

Resident Barbara Marsh discussed how the surrounding cities address fireworks. “In Holladay, no aerials are allowed in city boundaries. The discharge of fireworks on public property is prohibited.” Marsh asked for clarification on Cottonwood Heights’s stance on fireworks.

Cullimore clarified, “Cottonwood Heights bans fireworks east of Wasatch and around the urban areas. The fire agency determines where the lines are. We have gone through the same process as the other cities.”

One of the common themes from the night was the reiteration that firework laws are a state-level issue and that this conversation needs to be brought back up during the legislature session next year.

“I will go to the state level,” said Dave Shunuck, whose home was burned in the fire.

Marie Poulson, Utah House representative, also showed up to comment. “This is my neighborhood. What I would like to do as the state representative is help with this on a state level. Every year I get emails about fireworks, but by the time the legislative session comes around, it’s not as big of an issue as it was in the summer months. Currently, state law states that the cities cannot ban fireworks altogether. I have a colleague that has opened a bill to ban fireworks. I want to sponsor a bill that allows the cities to make judgments about firework bans. If I approach this at the state level, we need a lot of evidence and to get involved to make a change.”

On July 11, the Cottonwood Heights City Council passed Ordinance 275, which enacted additional restriction on the use of fireworks within the city.

“Under the Utah Fireworks Act, we can’t adopt an ordinance in conflict with the (Utah Fireworks) act,” Cullimore said. “However, there is a provision in there that allows us to restrict fireworks if the use is negligent. Use of aerial fireworks would qualify as negligence given the (seasonal) conditions at the present time.”  

The ordinance puts a ban on all personal aerial fireworks over 15 feet until December 29.