‘State code is pretty clear’: Washington City passes fireworks restrictions, cites having no power to ban them

WASHGINTON CITY — Washington City is the latest municipality to amend city code restricting fireworks use for the coming Fourth of July holiday.

In this file photo, Washington City Fire Chief Matt Evans speaks to media about a residential fire caused by fertilizer, Washington City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2016 | File Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“There’s been lots of discussion going on about fireworks,” Washington City Fire Chief Matt Evans said while addressing the City Council on Wednesday night.

The council unanimously approved an amendment to its city fireworks ordinance that, while largely unchanged from years passed, incorporated a change made to the city’s map outlining where fireworks can and cannot be used.

The change, Evans said, extends the boundaries of the no-fireworks zone to cover entire streets rather than midway or not at all. The restricted zone, which is covered in red on the map posted on the city’s website, covers a wide area with the exception of the more developed parts of the city.

Violations of the city’s fireworks restrictions may result in a class B misdemeanor and a possible $1,000 fine, according the to ordinance amended Wednesday by the council.

The 2021 fireworks restriction map for Washington City, Utah. The read areas mark where fireworks can’t be used within the city. A more detailed version of this map can be found here. | Map courtesy of Washington City, St. George News

Talk of further restricting and even banning fireworks this year due to the drought has been had across the state, Evans said. While some city’s have chosen to ban fireworks outright, the fire chief said he did not believe the city had the authority to take such action.

“I believe the state code is pretty clear in that we can restrict this, but we cannot ban it,” Evans said.

While state code states the municipalities can restrict fireworks use during the times of year they are allowed under state law, the authority to outright ban them has been withheld by the Legislature, City Attorney Thad Seegmiller said.

“That’s the language Chiefs Evans and I don’t debate or quibble with – we think it’s very clear,” Seegmiller said. “Washington City may not further restrict them.”

A reason the Legislature hasn’t banned fireworks all together is due to potential legal complications arising from banning a lawful business, such as a fireworks vendor. Instead, the state highly regulates the industry and limits the times fireworks can be sold and used, Seegmiller said.

Council member Doug Ward said he wouldn’t be surprised to see some state legislators attempt to change state law to enable city’s to more easily ban fireworks during extreme fire conditions.

Washington City Fire Department responds to a structure in Washington City, Utah, July 26, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

There is an exception in state code that allows a municipality to ban fireworks, but it needs to be a place where “hazardous environmental conditions exist” and a history of fire risk is attached to it, Seegmiller said.

This exemption was cited in an ordinance passed by the Hurricane City Council earlier this week banning fireworks use in their city.

“We just don’t think we have the authority to ban them any further than they’ve been banned,” Evans said.

While the fire chief said he expects there to be many fireworks-related calls made over the Fourth of July weekend, if people keep to the approved zones for fireworks, the fire risk won’t be as great as it otherwise could be.

“We typically don’t have problems when people are doing it right and they do it in the areas that are safe,” he said, yet added, “Our message is to ask people to enjoy the professional (fireworks) shows and not do them personally.”

Evans estimated that at least 200 fireworks-related calls, if not more, where made to the area dispatch center during the Fourth of July last year. While some calls resulted in fires that were extinguished by firefighters, other fireworks-caused fires burned themselves out before fire crews arrived.

“There were no fire crews available anywhere in the county with the amount of fires that we had going then,” he said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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