Fireworks go on sale in AF - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Fireworks go on sale in AF

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Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 8:00 am | Updated: 3:22 pm, Fri Sep 16, 2011.

Fireworks displays have begun cropping up in some grocery stores in Ahwatukee Foothills, but buyers may have a hard time finding a place to light them up.

Although you can buy fireworks in Phoenix, you cannot fire them off in the city, even on private property. The council banned their use last month.

City fire officials question whether residents have been made sufficiently aware that they cannot take them home to their Phoenix neighborhoods and ignite them.

"The education hasn't taken place. People see that, they buy it, and they're going to go home and use it," said Capt. Jonathan Jacobs, a Phoenix Fire Department spokesman. "If you get caught firing these things off and a cop writes you a ticket, you can't say you didn't know."

At Fry's grocery, with two locations in Ahwatukee Foothills, displays of sparklers and non-aerial fireworks went in soon after the Phoenix City Council reached a voluntary agreement with several large fireworks manufacturers two weeks ago to sell such fireworks within the city limits.

"They will be in the stores through the first of the year," said Fry's spokesman Jim Nygren.

The displays could return for the Fourth of July, he said. For this holiday season, it's too early to tell how successful sales will be, he said. So far, results are mixed.

"At some stores the sales are going very well and at other stores they're not really going very well," Nygren said.

George Ebel, store manager at the Safeway grocery at 48th Street and Elliot Road, said the company's two locations plan to begin selling fireworks, as well.

"I've got a pallet of them that I'll be putting out soon," he said.

It's unclear if Bashas' grocery, at 48th Street and Warner Road, will sell them, said Bill Latin, store director.

"I haven't seen anything one way or the other yet," he said.

Prior to Dec. 1, the sale and use of consumer fireworks were illegal in Arizona. In May, Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2246, which legalized the use of ground-based consumer fireworks such as sparklers, spinners and fountains, but not rockets or aerial shells. However, the law also gave cities the option of restricting the sale or use of fireworks inside city limits.

Last month, the Phoenix City Council voted unanimously to keep in place the city's prohibition on the use of consumer fireworks. The use of consumer fireworks in the city is now a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,500 in fines and six months in jail.

Jacobs said the fire department has opposed the sales of fireworks on the grounds of safety and fire prevention. Nationwide, fireworks cause up to 25,000 fires and send up to 10,000 people to the hospital each year, he said.

"These injuries vary in severity, but the one thing that is consistent is that it's the hand, the face and the eyes. Those are things you can't replace," Jacobs said.

One fire attributed to fireworks use already has been reported, he said. Earlier this month, a homeowner on South 82nd Lane in southwest Phoenix returned home to find his entire backyard scorched. Fire officials attributed the grass fire to embers from fireworks being set off in an adjacent park, Weaver said.

The fireworks were the type that can be purchased but not used within the city limits, he said. Given different climatic conditions, the fire could have been worse.

"If we change a few factors around, we could go from a ground fire to a pretty serious deal," Jacobs said.

The effect of Phoenix's regulations is that residents who buy fireworks must exit the city to use them. It's not as simple as pulling over to the side of the road.

State Fire Marshal Robert Barger said the use of fireworks is prohibited on state and federal public lands. Generally, fireworks are allowed only on private property, with the owner's permission, in areas where it is allowed by law, he said.

Pete Weaver, Maricopa County Emergency Management director, said he worries that Phoenix's decision to allow fireworks sales, but not use, might prompt people to use them in unincorporated county areas.

The county can restrict the use of fireworks only when there has been a determination that weather conditions present a reasonable risk of wildfire, he said. The "concrete jungle" of the city is less prone to fires, he said.

"It really limits what the county can do. It creates a big disparity," Weaver said. "The use is being pushed out to the unincorporated county where it's a bigger fire danger."

Some areas of the county don't have their own fire protection services, he said.

"The tinderbox out here kind of makes people nervous," Weaver said.

He said those who use fireworks in county roadways could be cited by police for impeding traffic.

The Gila River Indian Community, which sits just south of Pecos Road, adjacent to Ahwatukee, will have heavy police patrols over the two holiday weekends, said Alia Maisonet, a tribe spokeswoman.

"Our law enforcement is prepared for it," she said. "Our ordinances state no selling or using fireworks on our land."

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