ST. GEORGE – With high temperatures, wildfires blazing and much of Utah under a red flag fire weather warning, many places have banned fireworks over the July 4 holiday. While the list of restrictions is long this year, just what are the penalties involved in illegal fireworks use? And what might you expect if mishandling fireworks starts a fire?
Recent charges to Utah law have reduced the days fireworks can used in July to two days before and one day after July 4 and 24 – Independence Day and Pioneer Day respectively.
Additional changes to state law made earlier this year allow municipalities to ban fireworks use in particular areas, as well as raising the fine for using fireworks in restricted areas from $750 to $1,000.
Within St. George, the sale and use of restricted fireworks can result in receiving a class B misdemeanor, which can result in up to six months in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.
Under state law, restricted fireworks include: firecrackers, cannon crackers, ground salutes, M-80s, cherry bombs andother similar explosives.
Types of skyrockets, missile-type rockets and single or reloadable aerial shells are also prohibited. This includes bottle rockets, Roman candles and rockets mounted on a wire or stick.
Individuals who trigger fires can also be on the hook for the cost of fighting the fire, as well as the cost of damages to any property that was torched.
St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker told St. George News last summer that fire-suppression costs are broken down into an hourly rate.
A single fire engine can cost $198 while a ladder truck can be $210 an hour. As for the personnel, a single firefighter can run $36 an hour. So if a fire engine is called out to a fire for an hour and brings six firefighters, the cost of that single hour would be $414.
That amount can skyrocket when wildfires are involved. The cost of fighting those fires can reach into the millions.
According to a 2017 report from KUTV, the federal government has recovered around $1.5 million annually from people who have accidentally started wildfires. Utah itself recovers around $1 million a year.
While federal prosecutors may leave penalties at a hefty fine in cases that the fire was accidental, Utah’s state and county governments may be more inclined to pursue criminal charges and jail time.
Taylorsville resident Robert Ray Lyman, 61, is accused of accidentally starting the June 2017 Brian Head fire while allegedly burning weeds on his property.
The fire grew to 71,000 aces and resulted in multiple road closures, the evacuation of 1,500 people and 13 homes destroyed. Overall fire-suppression cost for that fire has been estimated to be $34 million.
Lyman faces one count of reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, and one count of failing to notify authorities or failing to obtain a permit before burning, a class B misdemeanor.
If convicted, he could serve a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine for the class A misdemeanor and up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the class B misdemeanor
While the Brian Head fire was not started by fireworks, the above illustrates the penalties an individual could face if their actions result in a fire.
The night of Independence Day 2017 was one of the busiest for the St. George Fire Department as it responded to between 17 and 20 fireworks fire-related incidents, Stoker said following the holiday.
At the time, Stoker said he believed the increase in calls was due to the overabundance of dry fuel across the region at the time. This year conditions aren’t much different.
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