By Natalie Lovin
This week, federal agents will stake out the Wyoming border, ready to catch Utahns in possession of illegal fireworks – a class B misdemeanor.
Gov. Leavitt scheduled a press conference for Thursdau, July 3, to announce the number of agents to be dispatched for this year”s fireworks season.
“As people bought the fireworks in Wyoming and headed into Utah (last year), they were apprehended by the Highway Patrol as they came down I-80,” said Brent Halladay, chief deputy state fire marshal. “We ended up here at our office with pretty much a pick-up load of illegal fireworks that had been confiscated.”
Despite the consequences, which, according to Halladay, can reach up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, some Utah residents still make the two-hour drive to Evanston, Wyo., to retrieve illegal fireworks.
“I thought it was so cool for my friends to go up to Wyoming, buy a lot of bottle rockets and launch them when they were down in Provo,” said Romney Doria, who will be a senior at Provo”s Timpview High School this fall.
Though Doria and his friends have never been caught with their bottle rockets, they have had some close calls.
“Police would drive around our area,” Doria said. “They wouldn”t really stop at people”s houses. They just monitored. Yeah, I”m amazed that my friends haven”t been caught.”
In Utah, illegal fireworks include those that are designed to explode, leave the ground or emit sparks any more than 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. That means bottle rockets, firecrackers and roman candles.
Nationally, mortar shells, cherry bombs and firecrackers containing more than two grains of powder are federally prohibited.
According to Halladay, the police and fire department will actively search for those in possession of illegal fireworks this year.
“We”re very, very busy (on the Fourth of July), and that”s one of the problems that we deal with,” said Lt. Greg Barber of the BYU Police Department. “It is something that we”re very conscious of and concerned about. We want people to be safe. We want them to enjoy the holiday, but we also want them to do it without loss of property, without injuries.”
Barber said, on the whole, the department doesn”t come across BYU students breaking fireworks laws very often.
Utah is one of 37 states that allow limited or unlimited use of consumer fireworks. Some states, such as Connecticut and Iowa, allow only sparklers and other novelties. In Arizona, fireworks are banned completely.
For those who consider roman candles a must-have and are wary of breaking state laws, individuals can apply for a permit from the Forest Service to possess them, though the chances of acquiring a permit are slim, according to Barber.
“We don”t issue permits (for fireworks),” Barber said. “We take the stand that we don”t want them, we”re not going to permit them at all. I”d be very surprised if others did.”
In the past, Utah has followed the example of Arizona and Georgia by banning all fireworks, especially during drier summers when fire hazards are high, Barber said. When this happens, possession of fireworks becomes a class C misdemeanor.