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The Cottonwood Heights City Council is banning residents from discharging aerial fireworks within city boundaries a move Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore said he hopes will serve as a message to the Legislature that municipalities need more local control over the issue.
The ban, approved late Tuesday, came in response to firework-related blazes across the Salt Lake Valley on Independence Day, including three fires that burned in Cottonwood Heights. Fire department dispatchers reported nearly 70 firework-related calls in Salt Lake County from the night of July 4 through the next morning.
More than 20 people spoke on the issue at Tuesday's council meeting, with almost all in favor of the ban, Cullimore said.
"This was clearly a passionate issue, but that's to be expected after the fires that we had on the Fourth of July. I was standing in the middle of those fires, and we were very fortunate that we did not have a total conflagration," he said. "It was a frightening situation."
State law regulates fireworks, but cities are able to enact some restrictions. More than 50 municipalities have city-specific fire restrictions listed on the Utah Department of Public Safety's website, with most focused on what areas fireworks can be used.
State Fire Marshal Coy Porter told The Salt Lake Tribune shortly after the July Fourth holiday that although municipalities have the ability to restrict fireworks, the state doesn't typically recommend that they do so.
"Our advice is to designate some area in the city, some green space either a park or multiple parks and/or maybe the high school football field [where] people could come and discharge their legal fireworks," he said. "If you ban it outright in a city, then people tend to still discharge but they go outside the city."
Cullimore said his city's ban isn't forever. But Cottonwood Heights leaders unanimously restricted the use of fireworks that travel higher than 15 feet through Pioneer Day (July 24) in response to high temperatures and environmental conditions, he said. The old ordinance allowing such fireworks will go back into effect in time for New Year's Eve celebrations.
Though the council was hesitant to approve a ban this close to Pioneer Day, Cullimore said, members ultimately felt that erring on the side of caution was the right thing to do.
He said he hopes the city's ban "sends a message to the Legislature as well that, 'Hey, we may need more flexibility on how to regulate these in the future than what current law allows.'"
House Minority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, told Fox13 that he is considering legislation that would ban fireworks outright, but House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he favors local control. Neither could be reached immediately for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Alyson Heyrend, a spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, said the mayor is still collecting and considering the responses to a survey he posted on social media a few days after Independence Day about a statewide fireworks ban.
"Obviously this past holiday was a little bit of an eye-opening experience for folks, but we're going to continue to collect responses and then we're going to figure out what the mayor wants to do going forward," she said.
A state or county decision is likely far away, but cities still have time to follow Cottonwood Heights' lead and pass ordinances before Pioneer Day that restrict firework discharge in some areas.
But Cullimore said he doesn't expect to see that happen.
"I don't think you'll see anybody follow suit," he said. "If you weren't acting already, you're out of time."
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