Hutchinson plans to ban most aerial fireworks

After fireworks caused several grass fires and severely damaged a home during the July Fourth holiday, Hutchinson city officials are ready to extinguish aerial fireworks and other fireworks that shoot sparks more than six feet.

The Hutchinson City Council this week directed city staff to prepare an ordinance to ban aerial fireworks and any pyrotechnics that shoot sparks more than six feet in any direction, despite pleas from fireworks dealers who complained the ban would cost them money. The proposed ordinance would be similar to Wichita’s current fireworks law.

“This isn’t easy because I like fireworks, but we need a sense of accountability and responsibility, and we didn’t see that,” said Mayor Dave Razo. “We have to get to a place where we have accountability.”

Fire Chief Kim Forbes said he is “99.9 percent” sure that fireworks caused $500,000 damage to a Hutchinson home on July 5. The fire department also extinguished 33 grass fires on July 4.

“To me, that is not a one-time, isolated incident. We can’t legislate common sense, but we can send a message in our community about what makes sense,” Council member Bob Bush said.

Forbes said the ban would eliminate the possibility of windborne embers landing out of sight and igniting a fire.

Representatives of two fireworks dealers asked the council to delay or reject the ban.

John Marietta of Jake’s Fireworks in Pittsburg suggested a fireworks safety education campaign.

“No one wants to see an accident; no one wants to see a fire,” Marietta said. “It’s bad for our industry.”

Devon Claycamp of Wholesale Fireworks in Augusta asked the council to delay the aerial ban for a year and instead create a designated area, such as the fairgrounds or a city park, where aerial fireworks could be discharged under the supervision of the fire department.

But City Manager John Deardoff and Forbes rejected that idea, noting that most Hutchinson parks are adjacent to residential neighborhoods and the designated area would have to be extremely large to allow everyone to shoot off their fireworks.

Claycamp predicted that fewer vendors would sell fireworks in Hutchinson, costing nonprofit organizations money.

“Public safety is the issue, not money,” said council member Ron Sellers.

Forbes also asked that he be given the authority to ban the sale of fireworks during extreme drought or high winds. Currently, he can ban fireworks because of the weather but he has never done so.

The city also will contact the Reno County Commission and South Hutchinson City Council to discuss having identical fireworks ordinances, to reduce the number of Hutchinson residents buying illegal fireworks nearby and setting them off in the city.