Lexington council committee to consider banning sale and use of fireworks

bfortune@herald-leader.com jkegley@herald-leader.comJuly 6, 2012 

Following hundreds of complaints and a few fires in Lexington, Urban County Council members say they will consider whether to ban the sale and use of fireworks in Fayette County.

Tom Blues said at a meeting Thursday night that he wanted the council's Public Safety Committee to explore the issue, including how a ban would be enforced.

Doug Martin seconded Blues' motion. The council voted unanimously in favor of referring the issue to the committee. Council member KC Crosbie was not present.

Committee chairwoman Diane Lawless said the committee would take up fireworks when the council returns in August from its summer break. The committee probably will consider emergency runs and citizen complaints before it decides to make a recommendation to the full council.

In 2011, the General Assembly passed a state law allowing local governments to regulate the sale and use of aerial fireworks such as mortars and bottle rockets. Previously, retailers could sell only "novelty fireworks" such as sparklers, fountains and snakes.

Under the law, a city could opt out of fireworks sales; it was up to the local government. The council passed a local ordinance last year to allow aerial fireworks to be sold in Fayette County, establishing limits on when and where they could be set off.

Because of drought conditions, the city banned the use of fireworks Monday. That didn't stop a lot of people from setting them off, council members said.

Lexington police received 608 complaints about fireworks usage Wednesday and an additional 190 complaints Thursday, police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said. About 25 citations were issued Wednesday through Friday, she said.

Fireworks were blamed for more than a dozen grass, brush, mulch and dumpster fires, and probably two house fires in Lexington, fire department Battalion Chief Ed Davis said.

The first house fire attributed to fireworks occurred Sunday on Curtin Drive, Davis said, when a mortar shell misfired and was shot into a shrub. The resulting fire burned the bush and some of the house's vinyl siding. Neighbor Ron Pennington, 66, grabbed a hose in his yard and sprayed the eaves of the house to keep the fire from going into the attic. He said the fire looked to be extinguished by the time firefighters arrived.

Davis said another house fire Wednesday night probably was caused by fireworks, but he did not release more information because the investigation is continuing.

Retailers likely will oppose a permanent ban.

"Obviously, I'm not for it," said Ben Stamper, whose Nicholasville company, Bluegrass Fireworks Inc., sells fireworks in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Stamper said he didn't think banning fireworks sales would have much of an effect on use if surrounding counties don't follow suit. Metro areas in Tennessee, where fireworks have long been legal under state law, have enacted similar bans that don't seem to stop the use of fireworks, he said.

"Everyone from the city ... comes to the county line and buys, then goes back to the city and shoots them," he said.

"The people the council is trying to legislate to aren't the ones that are using common sense anyway. They're trying to legislate something to someone who doesn't care what you legislate," Stamper said.

Some council members expressed similar concerns.

"It's tough to legislate personal responsibility. We have to be careful about that," Councilman Jay McChord said. "But putting it in Public Safety lets us deal with the issue in a less reactive mode."

Stamper noted fireworks sales were down drastically this year due to a "perfect storm" of events, including the drought, record-breaking temperatures, the temporary ban and an increase in retail competition. There were about 45 stalls in Lexington this year, compared to about 32 last year, officials have said.

Some fireworks retailers had such low sales they didn't break even on permit fees, rent and insurance, and they probably will have to go out of business, Stamper said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197Twitter: @HLPublicSafety Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197Twitter: @HLPublicSafetyBeverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251 Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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