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Holladay Journal

Council passed city-wide fireworks ban: will residents comply?

Jun 23, 2021 03:31PM ● By Zak Sonntag

The city has issued a firework ban which prohibits the use of all personal fireworks across the city until October. (Pixabay)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

July is a month of jamboree. Bookended by two major holidays—celebrations of nationhood and the pioneer arrival—the feeling of fete lingers on the hot summer air as surely as the scent of coal-fired barbeque wafting down your neighborhood street. And you may notice how the fireworks that begin on Independence Day don’t seem to completely halt—rather, they rocket and rattle sporadically across the month before erupting in earnest again on Pioneer Day. Because how better to express one’s pride and sense of community if not with a month-long caper of pyrotechnic explosion?

Although don’t pop off with excitement just yet because the city has issued a firework ban which prohibits the use of all personal fireworks across the city until October. The decision was compelled by the realities of an extraordinarily dry year, the fifth year of an official regional drought, which has created conditions tailor made to foster flames.

“I think it’s obvious that the current state of drought coupled with the extreme heatwave we’re experiencing right now has created a unique environment for fire-danger community wide,” said Mayor Rob Dahle. “The circumstances justify excessive steps to make sure we’re protecting the life and property of citizens, and I think that’s the bottom line.”

The mayor’s sentiments are echoed by leaders across the state; Gov. Spencer Cox went so far as to publicly implore all Utahns to pray for rain. 

Yet Holladay has a deep custom of July pyrotechnics, and while the city’s decision to impose a ban has so far been received respectfully, the news falls harder on some ears than others; some have responded with resignation, others with elation, as to be expected in a city where public attitudes toward fireworks have always shown broad gaps. But the council was firm in its decision, keener to head off dangers than cherish excitements.

“I’ve had very scary incidents in my district. Last year we had a spark incinerate a vacant lot. It threatened many homes and we had to have the neighborhood evacuated,” said councilmember Dan Gibbons, who represents the heavily wooded District 5. “A lot of properties [in our city] have old out buildings that are tinder boxes. I’m sensitive to residents that like to celebrate and enjoy their freedom of expression, but the public safety issue weighs really heavily on my mind, and the ban makes sense this year particularly.”

Virtually all public comments submitted to the council supported the ban, revealing how the threat of fires have become increasingly real for Holladay residents, many still psychologically seared with the memory of last year’s Neffs fire in which a lightning strike caused a 60-acre fire in the city’s backyard.

Yet there is no mistaking that many others across the city hold deep attachments to this July tradition, especially at a time when residents are hankering for modes of expression after a year of living lock-down lifestyles; just as pandemic obstacles are peeling away, expression is reigned in once more.

“Right as we’ve been able to open up and start being social again, we get these celebration restrictions dampening things again. It’s a big disappointment,” explained Alisia Dale, lifelong resident with deep Holladay lineage. “We need it right now because it’s one of the traditions that brings our community together for something exciting. We walk up the street and watch the fireworks and talk with the neighbors. We could use that right now.”

Of course, city ordinances are one thing, and human nature is another—for some traditions may feel stronger than laws.

“I’m sure some people will rebel against the ban. That’s just how things go. I’d be very surprised if I didn’t see some activity. I’ve been hearing them go off at nighttime already,” Dale said.

The city is not naïve on this point, and it’s ramping up enforcement currently. Still, leaders believe that residents share their concern and expect high compliance.

“You’re always going to have some people who don’t agree and they’ll fire them off anyway. But I think in Holladay if we put this out there, even if everyone’s not happy with it, 90% of our residents will voluntarily comply,” said Mayor Dahle.

Marry Holje, who lives near City Hall, appreciates that logic. 

“Normally, I’m all about a good celebration. We love it in this neighborhood. But since we’ve been living on the edge in this drought, I think it’s smart to have those limitations because you can never have complete control even when you’re trying to do it safely,” Holje said.

Nonetheless, if the mayor is right and 90% of residents respond like Mary Holje, that still leaves the community up against the reality that catastrophe can begin by a single spark.

Holladay Fire Chief Dan Brown supports the ban, and explained at a June council meeting that Unified Fire would be taking additional measures on the Fourth of July and throughout the month to dissuade and mitigate fire-threatening activity.

“[Unified Fire] is going to have two extra trucks on the east side purely for fireworks related issues. We’ll also have a fire prevention specialist driving through the community to help protect against illegal fireworks and assist with enforcement. And we’ll have an emergency management tent set up in case anything happens.” Brown said.

Although, it is not just a matter of open defiance, but also an issue of getting the community adequately informed. The city has seen in previous ban years that publicizing regulatory status is its own challenge, an issue raised by Councilmember Drew Quinn in June.

“How are we going to post this information up? Last year, we had a new [firework regulation] map, and we put signs up, but I still had calls from people who asked, ‘What do you mean I wasn’t supposed to set off fireworks on my street?’” Quinn said. 

The city is placing banners and street signs throughout the city to inform the community, and will hope that word of mouth spreads before sparks do. Leaders said they understand that fireworks are embedded in the community culture, and intend on privileging softer modes of enforcement.

“Fireworks have been a tradition in the city, so this is not going to be a militant patrolling. Hopefully it’s just going to help catch people and remind them that it’s not legal this year,” Dahle said.

The city will hold its official firework show at the City Park, where professionals will monitor and closely control the environment. This eases the disappointment of personal fireworks prohibitions. Though it’s only a single evening, the city’s Independence Day show packs a punch and offers residents a sense of national togetherness at a time when desires for renewed community are in high demand.

“If the city is doing a show, and its supervised and tightly controlled, then I support it. All the way,” Holje said.