This time of year, it’s hard to miss the displays of fireworks on sale at grocery stores or inside parking lot tents.
But one thing is far less obvious to consumers: While it’s legal to buy fireworks anyplace in Arizona, it’s illegal to actually use them in many places.
Public safety advocates are trying to spread the word out of concern the distinction is lost on many people.
Mesa police Det. Steven Berry said fireworks retailers are probably doing their best to tell buyers whether it’s legal to use fireworks where the products are being sold. But he said retailers may not take into account that the buyer could live a few blocks away, in another community where fireworks use is illegal.
Berry said he can see where confusion would arise.
“If people assume it’s readily available for sale in the grocery store, they assume it must be legal, and that’s not really the case,” Berry said.
In the East Valley, it’s legal to use fireworks Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 in Gilbert, Mesa and Queen Creek, as well as around the July 4th holiday.
But fireworks are illegal at all times in Chandler, Tempe and Phoenix.
Violations could result in fines of $250 or more.
Where fireworks are allowed, they can only be used on private property. By state law, legal fireworks include ground-based fountains, sparklers, pinwheels, smoke bombs, torches and wheels. Any fireworks that explode or shoot into the air are illegal.
Arizona’s legislature opened the door to fireworks in 2010 by allowing their sale. Cities and counties can restrict the use — but they can’t prohibit sales.
The new law is a concern to the Valleywide Fire Officer Information Network, a collation of 23 fire departments. The group notes that 8,800 people in the U.S. were treated in emergency rooms in 2009 for fireworks injuries, mostly to the hands, head or face. Men accounted for 73 percent of injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The association counted 18,000 fires and 1,300 structure fires associated with fireworks.
Police and firefighters say they know fireworks are used even where they’re illegal, though problems vary.
Chandler police Sgt. Joe Favazzo said police respond to reports of fireworks but that it’s hard to track the source by the time an officer arrives. Most fireworks reported are small, make little noise and don’t shoot into the air, he said.
“We just really have not seen a problem” Favazzo said.
Tempe did have some small fires last year around Independence Day, fire inspector Jim Schmit said. One included some leaves burning on a roof, but none of the fires caused major damage, Schmit said.
Tempe is working to keep better track of what fires or injuries are fireworks related. The city could have more fireworks-related fires than inspectors are aware of because some alley or trash bin fires aren’t as fully investigated as other blazes. And some injuries don’t get counted either, Schmit said.
“Sometimes people won’t tell you how they got burned,” he said. “They may just say they got burned, not that they were playing with fireworks.”
In Tempe, retailers are supposed to post signs informing potential buyers that fireworks use is illegal in the city. The Fire Department inspects retailers, including the six or so tents that were up last year. The potential for fireworks use could be much higher this year based on the number of tents, he said.
“There are a lot more out there now,” Schmit said. “I think we’ve already inspected a dozen tents here in Tempe for New Year’s.”
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