Private use of fireworks banned in Fayette, Scott, Woodford counties

dmoore@herald-leader.comJuly 2, 2012 

After one of the hottest three-day stretches on record, Lexington-Fayette County officials decided Monday that it's too dangerous to allow residents to set off fireworks at home.

Officials in Scott and Woodford counties enacted similar bans Monday.

In Lexington, fire, police and city officials announced a fireworks ban until further notice. The ban covers the use of all common and consumer fireworks, including sparklers, snakes, bottle rockets and mortars. Setting them off could result in a $100 fine for the first offense.

"The decision we're announcing today won't be popular for everyone, but it's the right thing to do — the safe thing to do," Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said. "We must do what we can to stop the fires before they start."

Drew Chandler, Woodford County deputy director of emergency management, said Judge-Executive John Coyle acted out of an "abundance of caution" in signing an order Monday implementing the ban. The drought is the worst Chandler can remember in at least 10 years.

The cities of Versailles and Midway are not covered by the Woodford County ban.

The five public fireworks shows permitted by the city of Lexington — including the community fireworks downtown on Wednesday, and the Red, White and Boom display Saturday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark — will proceed as scheduled.

The fireworks ban coincides with a ban on open outdoor burning that the Division of Fire and Emergency Services issued last week.

Similar bans on outdoor burning, which often include fireworks, had been enacted by more than 50 counties throughout the state by Thursday, and others are considering doing so.

Some public fireworks displays — including those in Paris, Winchester and Corbin — have been canceled.

On Monday, Lexington officials cited the extremely dry conditions and a higher than usual number of brush and mulch fires, some of which were ignited by fireworks. Temperatures topped 100 degrees last week, making it the second-hottest three-day stretch on record.

During that period, 70 fires were reported in brush, grass, leaves and trash. Since June 15, there have been 135 such fires, with 11 of those being caused by fireworks. Many more were related to lightning or cigarette butts.

"Normally, we would have no more than a handful at that time," Gray said of the grass fires.

Battalion Chief Ed Davis said if fireworks start a fire that spreads, additional charges could be filed.

"If someone is injured in that, that could become an arson charge, or worse," Davis said.

Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said the ban covers all fireworks sold at roadside tents, stores and retail outlets.

"We felt like it was best to do a comprehensive ban to eliminate confusion and to provide everyone with the simplest information" until the weather improves, Mason said.

He said that he hasn't received any pushback from retailers, noting that ban doesn't affect the sale of the holiday commodities, only their use.

Mason said he expects an increase in calls about the use of fireworks, and the fire department will evaluate each call based on the size and nature of the offense. The department has said it will prioritize calls based on the number of emergencies and reports of more serious crimes.

"We are going to allocate specific resources within the police department over the next few nights as responders specifically for fireworks complaints," he said.

Lexington police Lt. Brian Maynard said calls to report fireworks offenses should be made to the department's non-emergency phone number, (859) 258-3600, rather than to 911.

In addition to the fire hazards, many residents have complained about noise, according to a news release. A city ordinance enacted last year restricted the use of fireworks to specific times, allowing them from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. except for July 3 and 4 and Dec. 31, when fireworks may be set off until midnight.

Officials said the bans on open burning and use of fireworks will remain in effect as long as current weather conditions continue. Until then, fire officials said, property owners should keep bushes and mulch damp, and smoking materials should be disposed of properly.

"We want everyone to have fun celebrating the Fourth," Gray said. "But we want them to be safe."

Herald-Leader staff writer Karla Ward contributed to this report. Daniel Moore: (859) 231-3344. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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