Illegal fireworks policy needs to be snuffed out

Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan talks about the Boise Foothills Fire

Chief Dennis Doan talks about the Boise Fire Department's response to Thursday's Foothills wildfire.
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Chief Dennis Doan talks about the Boise Fire Department's response to Thursday's Foothills wildfire.

After watching the Table Rock Fire threaten Harris Ranch and other East Boise neighborhoods, we agree with Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan. Despite any tax revenue Idaho might enjoy from its share of the $700 million sales in fireworks nationwide, Idaho should move to amend its policy and close loopholes regarding illegal fireworks.

We support the “safe and sane” sale of fireworks seen around Boise. But when it comes to rules that allow Idahoans to purchase illegal fireworks (examples: firecrackers, skyrockets and those with a large sparking radius) and then expect people will never deploy them in the Gem State — such a law amounts to a wink and a nod, lighting a complicit fuse and then walking away.

This is particularly absurd in a tinder box environment like Idaho where highly combustible high desert/forested terrain needs only a spark to ignite a tragedy.

With a fresh and devastating example of what happens when people light fireworks in the Boise foothills still simmering in our minds, we could park on a simple question: What are people who do this and the legislators who allow this thinking? That the wind will blow just right and we’ll be this “lucky” every time?

There is nothing “lucky” about a Boise family losing their ancestral home and escaping with their lives — even though our community is fortunate that only 2,500 acres were burned and no one was injured or killed in the Table Rock fire that could have been exceedingly deadly.

The perpetrators (who, as of this writing had not been identified) could face a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, as well as be financially responsible for thousands of dollars in fire suppression costs.

Since these people are not thinking, it is time to give them, our Legislature and local governments something to think about:

▪ The penalty and fine for starting a potentially fatal fire ought to be much more severe for such a careless act. Whether these perpetrators were using legal “safe and sane” fireworks or illegal fireworks doesn’t matter — both categories are banned in foothill areas. The reparations for such carelessness must be more in line with the risk to life and property.

▪ Idaho’s ridiculous posture of allowing people to buy illegal fireworks in this state if they promise (by signing an affidavit) to not use them here is naive at best and bordering on negligence at worst. Where’s the follow-up to see if these purchasers keep their word? Why sell things here and, theoretically, export the hazard across state lines?

▪ We know some Idaho consumers of illegal fireworks don’t keep their word because they show up at our emergency rooms with injuries, and their explosives and projectiles are all too evident in our neighborhoods.

▪ The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in the month around the July 4 weekend in 2015 fireworks were involved in 10 deaths and more than 11,000 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments. The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2013 fireworks caused an estimated 15,600 fires in the U.S., including 1,400 structure fires, 200 vehicle fires, and 14,000 outside and other fires. According to a Statesman analysis of fire data between 1992 and 2013, fireworks caused 41 wildfires in the Boise area.

Just like you, we love a good Fourth of July fireworks show — the kind put on by professionals and other permit holders. But right now Idaho is sending a mixed message: a preference for “safe and sane” fireworks and what amounts to an indifference toward illegal fireworks by allowing their purchase and then looking the other way.

If these fireworks are not safe to use in Idaho, why are they allowed to be sold here? This makes no sense.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.

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