SALT LAKE CITY — As Utahns prepare for their personal Fourth of July celebrations, fire officials want to make sure they’re prepared to safely light fireworks as the state heads into the driest part of the season.
Firework stands around the state open Wednesday, and Utahns can purchase fireworks through July 25. They can then be lit between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. from July 2 to July 5, and again July 22 to July 25 in observance of Pioneer Day.
Eric Anderson, national chainstore sales and marketing representative for TNT, said the firework retailer has seen a spike in novelty sales — nonignitable items like party poppers and party snaps — but it’s too early to tell how the pandemic will affect sales of the larger fireworks.
“Obviously with people not being able to go on vacations or do their normal activities, they’re trying to find ways to celebrate at home,” he said of the increased purchases.
State Fire Marshal Coy Porter says his biggest concern about the upcoming holiday is the dryness and heat Utah is currently experiencing, because it is likely to get hotter and drier as the year progresses.
“Right now, some of the fuel moistures are getting to a critical phase,” he said. “We are still pulling vegetation samples from canyons to test water content, but it could change as time goes on.”
Porter said local fire chiefs are concerned that neighborhoods might be tempted to hold their own firework shows since most public displays are canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“(People) should probably follow our website to see current regulations and restrictions as well as safety items,” he said.
While there are state restrictions, fire restrictions vary from county to county and even city to city, so Utahns are advised to check with their local fire authorities on any restrictions.
Currently, fireworks are not allowed on federal or state public land.
Sparklers are of special interest to Porter because they are often the cause of severe burns during the holiday and contribute to a large number of emergency room visits that day, he said.
He also encouraged people to maintain social distancing while enjoying their Fourth of July celebrations.
Porter also stressed that people should be following manufacturer instructions when lighting off aerial fireworks and adhere to state regulations regarding their use.
He said aerials should be surrounded by bricks or other nonflammable material to prevent them from tipping over.
Anderson echoed Porter’s recommendations and suggested people light fireworks in open, flat areas with a lot of concrete around like cul-de-sacs. He also suggested having water around and following manufacturer guidelines.
“TNT has been very focused on safety and providing the safest fireworks in the industry. We always recommend people follow the restrictions of fire officials,” Anderson said.
Kate Webb, statewide prevention and fire communications coordinator for Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, urged Utahns to take extra precautions with fireworks this year.
“We’ve seen a significantly higher rate of wildfires this year with a higher percentage of them being human-caused,” Webb said.
She pointed to the most recent fire statistics, saying Utah has had 468 wildfire starts so far this year, with 401 of them — or 86% — being human-caused. She said 2018 saw 135 starts by this time, while 2018 had 360 starts by this time, which was considered a busy year.
“As far as the holiday weekend is concerned, we are very adamant about prevention,” Webb said.
She also asked people to be aware of starting fires while recreating by keeping an eye on campfires and making sure drivers aren’t dragging chains.
She offered some general safety tips for people lighting off fireworks:
- Check with local fire authorities to make sure there aren’t any active restrictions or red-flag warnings before setting off fireworks.
- Think about the weather by considering temperature and windy conditions.
- Clear the area to make sure there isn’t overhead vegetation or a lot of dry vegetation around the area where fireworks are being set off.
- Keep water or fire extinguishers handy in case something does go wrong.
“We really need to have people be cognizant of their surroundings like wind and weather to make sure people have a safe holiday,” Porter said.