The celebration of the United States’ independence will be slightly different this year than in years past, thanks to the coronavirus. That said, one you can count on at least one thing: fireworks.
Though aerial fireworks are illegal in Blaine County without proper permitting, locals and visitors alike will have two opportunities for an explosively exciting fireworks display on Independence Day.
Sun Valley Resort will hold its annual fireworks display at 10 p.m., as will the city of Hailey at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 4, giving fireworks enthusiasts in both the south valley and north valley opportunities to see the sky light up in brilliant colors.
Perhaps the two displays will be enough to deter others from launching their own.
According to Idaho law, nonaerial fireworks may be used without a permit beginning at midnight on June 23 and ending at midnight on July 5 and beginning at midnight on Dec. 26 and ending at midnight on Jan. 1. Otherwise, the pyrotechnics are illegal in the state, with counties and cities in the valley generally adhering to state law and not implementing any stricter regulations.
However, people don’t always follow the rules—and every year fireworks spark fires. It’s already happened in 2020: Fireworks residue was found following a mid-valley fire late last month.
On June 23, around 6:15 p.m., Wood River Fire & Rescue along with other agencies and at least half a dozen fire apparatuses responded to a fire in the Indian Creek subdivision. The fire burned less than an acre, and was contained quickly, in large part thanks to a homeowner who assisted the agencies in extinguishing flames that burned on opposite sides of the roadway and threatened at least one structure. Fireworks residue was found at the scene and turned over to the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office to begin an investigation.
Last year alone, fireworks sparked about 19,500 fires across the U.S., according to the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has a local chapter in the Ketchum Fire Department. July is also one of the busiest months of the year for professional firefighters, according to the association.
“Please Blaine County, let’s not complete the Apocalypse Bingo card,” Ketchum Professional Firefighters said in a Facebook post on June 24 states, the day after responding to Indian Creek. Though veiled as a light-hearted joke, the threat of a wildfire sparking this season is a very real one.
“It’s been a drier-than-normal spring, as I understand it,” Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Ron Bateman said. “Conditions are certainly ripe for a fire.”
It wouldn’t be the first time.
On July 6, 2014, the Colorado Gulch Fire was ignited and burned 728 acres of sagebrush and grasslands over four days before being fully contained. The fire was ignited by a 19-year-old man shooting illegal fireworks from his car. He was convicted of a misdemeanor for starting the blaze and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution. The full cost of the fire was far higher, though, with the BLM alone reporting an estimate of $300,000 to put it out, including the use of a DC-10 air tanker to fly in and drop flame-retardant.
Wood River Fire & Rescue, which also assisted on the Colorado Gulch Fire, spent an estimated $40,000 combating the blazes, then Chief Bart Lassman said at the time.
Penalties depend on how the offense is charged. Someone found to have ignited a wildfire could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison along with fines and restitution for the cost of battling the fire if charged with felony arson, or a maximum of six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine if charged with misdemeanor firing timber or prairie land.
For the most part, fireworks are also banned beyond county borders. The U.S. Forest Service and the BLM ban fireworks year-round on the land they manage.
Within Blaine County, fireworks defined as “ground spinners, fountains, sparklers, smoke devices or snakes” may be used so long as they don’t go beyond a 15-foot diameter or more than 20 feet into the air. Roman candles, firecrackers or other forms of aerial fireworks are illegal, as is altering or throwing fireworks and setting them off in brush or grassy areas that pose a fire danger.
“As we approach the Fourth of July holiday we are encouraging limited if any use of legal fireworks to help reduce risk, and anything that goes into the air is illegal,” Sun Valley Fire Chief Taan Robrahn said. “If people decide to light off fireworks, please do so in a safe place, on concrete or asphalt away from vegetation. Have a hose with water available and keep kids a safe distance away to reduce the chance of getting burned.”