Despite some rain, Lexington fireworks ban remains in effect

dmoore@herald-leader.comkward1@herald-leader.comJuly 3, 2012 

  • Downtown Lexington on the Fourth

    7:20 a.m. — Bluegrass 10,000 (wheelchair divisions at 7:20 and 7:25; runners at 7:30; 1-mile Fun Run at 8:15); details, Page C?

    10 a.m.-6 p.m. — Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, CentrePointe block, Phoenix Park, Short Street and the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion at Cheapside Park: Entertainment; food and vendors; arts and crafts

    11:15 a.m. — reading of Declaration of Independence on Main St. near Fifth Third Bank

    2 p.m. — parade down Main St. from Midland Ave. to Broadway

    6-10 p.m. — Live concert near Triangle Park

    10 p.m. — fireworks near Rupp Arena

Lexington police say they have received several dozen complaints about people setting off fireworks, but no one has been cited.

Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said officers must catch people setting off the fireworks or see them with evidence of doing so in order to issue a citation for violation of the ban on shooting off personal fireworks that was put into effect on Monday.

"We're very serious about this," Roberts said. "If we see people violating the statute, they will be cited."

If the fireworks cause a house fire or other property damage, the culprit could also face arson charges, said Battalion Chief Ed Davis of the Lexington fire department.

He said firefighters have been called to 13 fires set by fireworks since June 15.

Dry conditions led the city to enact the ban. Until a ban on outdoor burning issued last week is lifted, the use of personal fireworks is prohibited in Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray announced Monday.

On Monday afternoon, at the same time the mayor was announcing the Lexington ban, firefighters were putting out a fire in a field near Tates Creek High School and an apartment building. A witness said she saw kids setting off fireworks there just minutes earlier.

And on Sunday night, before the ban went into effect, the soffit and roof of a home on Curtin Drive were damaged by a fire caused by fireworks, Davis said. He said neighbors were setting off fireworks in the street when a mortar misfired and landed in the shrubbery in front of the home.

Davis said city officials don't want to hurt fireworks sellers, but the fire potential is too great to allow fireworks to be set off.

"We feel like the Grinch," he said. "I'd rather be the Grinch than see somebody get hurt or lose their home."

Early Wednesday morning, city officials said the ban would remain in effect, even though rain had fallen in some parts of the county Tuesday night.

"Due to rainfall earlier today the Lexington Fire Department has received numerous calls from citizens asking if the fireworks ban has been lifted for Fayette County," said the statement from Davis at the fire department. "After receiving reports that large areas across the county received little or no precipitation at all, the ban will remain in effect until further notice.

"The LFD will continue to monitor the situation daily, and when conditions are once again favorable the ban will be lifted. Citizens are reminded that while some may view the ban as a hardship, city officials feel that the risk of fires far outweighs the entertainment value of using fireworks. "

The city's main fireworks show downtown will continue as scheduled.

Operators of several fireworks tents around Lexington said fireworks sales were already down significantly before the ban.

"Even if there was no ban, people are still concerned about launching them in dry conditions anyway," Jesse Yon said Tuesday in his empty fireworks tent on New Circle Road near North Broadway.

Yon said the heat and dry weather were hurting sales long before the ban was issued. He estimated his tent was selling 20 to 30 percent less than last year.

Dave Wood, who is operating a tent in front of the Wal-Mart on Richmond Road, said sales were down 90 percent from last year.

"This is horrible," he said. "I'm doing it for fun at this point."

In addition to the hot, dry conditions, Wood said, his sales have been hurt by economic conditions and an increase in competition. He said some customers had stopped by on Tuesday to ask about his return policy because of the ban. But he said most said they planned to wait until the ban is lifted, then shoot off their fireworks.

Curtis Miller runs a fireworks tent on Nicholasville Road near the Zandale Center. He's operated tents during similar bans in the past, and he said people continue to buy and set off fireworks responsibly.

"People just don't care, you know what I mean?" Miller said. "As long as you're careful and you're not being stupid with it."

Tuesday afternoon, Miller said he had customers inquire about what exactly the ban meant. Miller said he has been trying to "point people in the direction" of smaller, less dangerous fireworks since the ban.

"I was like, 'well, as long as you're going to be safe with it, you don't have anything to worry about,'" Miller said. "Don't buy stuff that's huge, that's going to go up and come back down and still be on fire, like artillery shells. Buy smaller ones."

Five public fireworks displays that already have permits in Lexington, including the downtown fireworks on Wednesday and the Red, White and Boom display on Saturday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, will go on as planned.

Meanwhile, Jessamine County officials on Wednesday said they will "strongly encourage" residents to refrain from shooting fireworks Wednesday, but they said they won't prohibit it.

Jessamine Judge-Executive William Neal Cassity said county officials decided Tuesday to adopt that middle course after weighing the risks of allowing fireworks when grass and undergrowth are tinder dry.

Cassity said that while some Jessamine fire officials favored a ban, residents who already have fireworks permits argued that it would have been unfair.

"We got everybody together and let them talk it out," Cassity said. "People have been shooting fireworks down here for a week, and I think we've had possibly one brush fire when some kid shot a Roman candle into the grass."

County volunteer fire departments probably will line up extra personnel in case they're needed during the holiday, he said.

Holiday closings

Courts: Closed

Health department: Closed

LexTran: Service will follow a Sunday schedule.

Libraries: Closed

Garbage collection

■ Division of Waste Management: No afternoon pickup for downtown businesses, but there will be the normal late-night pickup.

■ M&M Sanitation: Collection Wednesday through Friday will be a day later.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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