SALT LAKE CITY– The severe drought impacting the majority of Utah is increasing the chances of wildfires across the state. In order to minimize the risk of sparking a blaze due to the dry climate and vegetation, Governor Spencer Cox, along with city officials, is calling on the Utah Legislature to ban fireworks this year.
While cities can opt to prohibit fireworks, and some already have, the governor does not have the authority to restrict the use of them statewide.
Sandy city leaders told KSL TV reporter Garna Mejia they also don’t have the power to ban fireworks.
“We’re getting a demand from our residents to enact stricter regulations, especially with the 4th of July season coming up, and we just can’t do it,” Zach Robinson, a member of the Sandy City Council, told KSL-TV. “Our hands are tied.”
In a 2018 city survey, about 95% of respondents said they would support a firework ban in Sandy during an extreme drought.
For Robinson, banning fireworks is a matter of public safety.
“We run the risk of losing homes,” Robinson said.
City statute limits where fireworks are allowed
Even though Sandy cannot fully ban fireworks, they can limit where the explosions can happen.
Sandy City Fire Chief Bruce Cline says they have the authority to restrict fireworks in high-risk areas, such as urban-wildland areas and places with a history of wildfires. Places like Eagle Mountain are prone to fires, so they banned personal fireworks earlier this week.
Cline told KSL-TV the city is attempting to ban fireworks east of 1300 East in Sandy, with the chance to extend the boundary to other cities like Draper and Cottonwood Heights.
However, despite these efforts, Cline said it would be significantly more effective if the Utah Legislature stepped in.
Gov. Cox wants the legislature to ban fireworks
The governor has been vocal about his stance on banning fireworks statewide. He’s spoken in support of restricting fireworks publically on multiple occasions. His reasoning: the drought that’s depleting water sources.
“Let me be very clear. People should not be lighting off fireworks this year,” said Cox on KSL NewsRadio’s program ‘Let Me Speak to the Governor’ Thursday. “It’s far too dry. Even if the stuff you think is green, the stuff that looks green, it’s far drier than it ever has been at this time of year.”
Even though the drought conditions will exacerbate fire season, Cox said there’s nothing he can do to prevent the lighting of fireworks.
“I don’t have the authority to ban fireworks in the state,” said Cox. “Only the legislature can do that, and they’ve said they’re not interested in that.”
However, Cox said local governments can place some firework restrictions, and he’s encouraging them to do so.
Additionally, Cox noted if someone sparks a fire from lighting fireworks, they will be held responsible and will be required to pay for the cost of putting the blaze out.
“And it can get can get very expensive very very quickly,” warned Cox.
So far, crews have responded to more than 300 fires. At this time last year, crews responded to less than 100.
“Last year we had 60 fires from just fireworks alone,” said Cox.
Reps. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, and Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, told KSL-TV they would support a ban on fireworks. However, in an email response, Harrison noted “Cities’ hands have been tied by the Republican-controlled legislature.”
Contributor: Saige Miller
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