Wichita officials: Spike in fireworks fires last year raises concern

06/20/2013 11:47 AM

08/06/2014 2:18 AM

Concerned by “a little bit of a spike” in fireworks-related fires last year, Wichita Fire Department officials on Thursday cautioned residents to be careful in how they celebrate Independence Day this year.

Fireworks go on sale in the city next Wednesday and continue through July 5. Nothing that shoots projectiles more than 6 feet in the air is legal in Wichita, fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said.

“Shoot ’em where you buy ’em,” Bevis said of fireworks. “If you go in Andover and buy them, shoot them there.”

Folks who buy their fireworks in Andover, in Butler County, and return to Wichita to set them off could be cited and fined because “everything will most likely be illegal,” Bevis said.

There were 58 fires related to fireworks last year, data provided by Fire Chief Ron Blackwell showed. They caused more than $200,000 in damage.

Comparisons to previous years are difficult, Bevis said, because officials changed how they classify fires.

Yet the past two years saw 70 people injured while setting off fireworks – the most in at least the past five years, and double the number from 2008.

Mortar shells, firecrackers and sparklers have accounted for most of the injuries over the past five years.

“People really like those mortars,” Bevis said. “They’re highly illegal.”

Fire officials only wrote one citation last year over a fireworks ordinance violation, he said, preferring to educate rather than litigate.

A special number has been set up to handle fireworks complaints over the holiday period: 316-290-1011. It will operate between 6:30 p.m. and 3 a.m. from July 4 to 6.

“It takes some of the load off the emergency dispatchers,” Bevis said.

Dispatchers handled 745 fireworks complaints last year, fire officials said.

People who call that number outside the designated hours will have their call rolled over to an emergency dispatcher, Bevis said.

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