Boise’s fire chief is pushing lawmakers to outlaw the sale of fireworks that are illegal to set off in Idaho, a response to last June’s fireworks-caused wildfire that torched 2,500 acres of Foothills land.
The June 30 fire blazed across Table Rock and cost taxpayers around $341,000, according to the Boise Fire Department. Authorities have charged Taylor Kemp, 20, with unintentionally starting the fire while using illegal fireworks. The fire destroyed a home and threatened dozens of others.
Under Idaho law, it is legal to sell aerial fireworks but illegal to set them off in-state.
“Currently in Idaho, illegal fireworks are illegal, but if you sign an affidavit that you won’t set it off in Idaho, you can buy them, which seems, in my mind, a little crazy,” said Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan. “It’s like the neighboring states can sell marijuana and it’s legal to have it (in those states) — are we going to allow the sale in Idaho as long as you sign an affidavit that you don’t use it in Idaho?”
Doan made similar comments immediately after the Table Rock Fire, calling current law “absolutely ludicrous” and promising a push to update it.
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said Wednesday that draft legislation is being finalized and would likely go before the House State Affairs Committee for a print hearing next week. He said the legislation, proposed by state fire officials, would “close the perceived loophole that allows retail sales of aerial fireworks and puts our communities at risk.”
The law change “would have made it hard for citizens to buy the fireworks at a neighborhood fireworks stand and then drive into the Foothills and light the Foothills on fire,” Erpelding said.
The proposed legislation would prevent retailers from selling any kind of fireworks that are illegal to set off in the state.
Doan cited other figures: Fires caused by fireworks on July 4-5 in Boise increased from seven in 2015 to 17 in 2016. Two homes were destroyed in those fires this year. Doan noted the punishment for setting off illegal fireworks is only a misdemeanor.
Doan said the legislation would save his fire department’s resources during the week of the Fourth of July.
If legislators are unwilling to close this loophole, Doan said he believes the state should tax fireworks and give the money to local fire jurisdictions to pay for resources used extinguishing fireworks-related fires.
“Not only do we have to expend resources, but people’s homes are being burnt down,” Doan said. “We are burning down our Foothills each and every year. The right to own and to have and to set off fireworks does not trump the homeowners’ rights to have a home and to have our beautiful Foothills that we can recreate in.”
Doan said the ambiguity of the law was initially meant for wholesale fireworks but not retail sales, meaning the retailers have found their own loophole.
If the legislation were to move forward, any retailer selling fireworks that can’t be set off in the state could be charged with a misdemeanor. A conviction would be punishable by up to one year in county jail.
Kemp is charged with violating Ada County’s fireworks ordinance and awaits a Feb. 22 trial. If he is convicted, the prosecution will seek restitution for the expense of fighting the blaze. The Boise Fire Department spent roughly $150,000 of the money it took to put the fire out; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management accounted for the rest.
Prosecutors offered Kemp a plea deal, but he rejected that and opted to present his case to a jury. Kemp said he was at Table Rock that night but has denied lighting any fireworks. He has said he threw nonflammable fireworks poppers.
Reporters John Sowell and Bill Dentzer contributed to this report.