DRAPER, Utah (ABC4) – On the final day of June and with Fourth of July festivities looming this weekend, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox, United Fire Authority Fire Chief Dan Peterson, and Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell stood in front of a few fire trucks and implored Utahns to refrain from lighting personal fireworks this summer.
“Please, please, please celebrate without personal fireworks,” Governor Cox implored at the beginning of the address, mentioning that he had just wrapped up a chat with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on wildfire prevention and response earlier that morning.
According to the Governor, Utah has already experienced 457 wildfires this year, which is expected to be of, if not the single driest, years in state history. Of those fires, 81% have been human-caused, accounting for 28,000 of the 58,000 or so acres of land that have been scorched.
Cox also mentioned that last year, 65 wildfires were caused by fireworks, a number that didn’t include any urban fire calls. ABC4 found that 217 total fires were caused by fireworks last year, and since not all cities reported their figures to the state fire marshal, that number could be even higher.
Explaining that his power to completely ban fireworks statewide this year was limited and that his “hands were tied,” Cox lamented that he was unable to impose a ban, which he has stated he would have done.
While several cities in the state have banned personal fireworks this summer, others have not, meaning Cox has to rely on the power of persuasion and count on Utahns to use fireworks responsibly, or in his preference, not at all.
“The right thing this year is to put your personal fireworks away,” Cox stated.
An alternative to personal shows, according to Cox, is to attend city-run displays. He also considers this to be a solid option after public gatherings were canceled last July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want people to be together,” he said, stating that public shows are a safer option due to the on-hand presence of firefighters and the execution of the aerial explosives by trained professionals.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell also took to the microphone to echo the Governor’s pleas after his city was struck by a massive fire that caused an estimated $5 million in damages on Monday. While that fire is not believed to be related to fireworks, Caldwell repeated the urge to refrain from personal use of the icons of independence celebration, citing the enormous amount of water used to put out Monday’s flames.
According to Caldwell, more than 1.5 million gallons of water were used in the efforts that resulted in the loss of several buildings and several hospitalizations.
“I completely reiterate what was said about the anxiety we’ve felt the last year and a half and the desire we’ve had to come together and celebrate together, this is not the year to do that with personal fireworks,” he stated.
Additionally, Unified Fire Authority Fire Chief Dan Peterson also gave his thoughts, mentioning that while a good portion of the state received rainfall on Tuesday, conditions are still quite poor.
“Our rain yesterday was really welcome but today, one day later will dry that out and we’ll be back in the same position we were the day before the rain,” he said.
Peterson also cautioned that arid conditions have reached irrigated areas, such as cities and towns and that the shrubbery around homes is drier than usual.
“We as fire chiefs, are asking you to skip the personal fireworks this year,” he urged residents.
Peterson reminded Utahns that in areas where fireworks have been banned this year, violators will be subject to a $1,000 fine and liable for any damage or control costs that ensue from a fire. He stated that crews will have a presence in restricted areas to anticipate any issues that may arise.
Concluding his pleas, Cox ended the media session by explaining that this year is abnormal, mostly due to the fact that the dryness has breached the urban areas of the state.
“Conditions are different than what you can expect in the past,” Cox stated. “This is not hyperbole overstatement, not government being government and trying to make everything a catastrophe or emergency. This is real.”