Rural areas can limit fireworks sale and use

PHOENIX - Small counties will be able to limit fireworks sales and use during times of high fire danger, and statewide, they can be sold only during weekslong windows around the New Year's and July Fourth holidays under a bill signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The law also bars cities and towns in Maricopa and Pima counties from banning the use of fireworks, increases penalties for illegal use of fireworks on city-owned preserve lands and clarifies that aerial fireworks are never permissible in Arizona. The law is effective immediately because of an emergency clause and was among dozens that Brewer signed late Tuesday.

The bill by Sen. Chester Crandell of Heber was a compromise effort to allow counties where fire danger is particularly worrisome to bar their use. Fireworks industry lobbyist Mike Williams said it gives the state's 13 rural counties with populations under 500,000 the option of banning fireworks to prevent wildfires while removing that ability for the state's two largest counties.

Cities and towns across the state previously could ban the use of fireworks, but those in Pima and Maricopa counties can no longer do so, Williams said.

Many cities routinely banned fireworks. But rural cities were particularly concerned because surrounding counties could not ban sales, despite bans on their use in surrounding national forests and on state trust land.

For cities like Flagstaff, set in the midst of a ponderosa pine forest which becomes a tinderbox during times of high fire danger, curtailing the availability of fireworks is critically important, Fire Chief Mark Gaillard said.

"It's a huge improvement in the ability to manage that risk here," Gaillard said of the new law.

Other provisions of the bill Brewer signed Tuesday include a blanket ban on the use of fireworks except for a roughly two-week period leading up to the two holidays.

Fireworks were illegal until 2010 when Brewer signed a bill long sought by the fireworks industry that legalized sparklers and fireworks that shoot off sparks but don't explode or fly into the air.

Arizona governors had vetoed several versions of that bill in the 1990s. Brewer cited the threat of wildfires in vetoing a 2009 version.

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