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Friday, July 15, 2005

"I can't remember a worse Fourth of July than what we had this year."

Attilio Leonardi
Honolulu fire chief

Fire chief calls for
ban on fireworks
for July 4th

Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi could smell trouble when he went to Magic Island to watch the Independence Day fireworks show, but instead saw thousands of people illegally setting off smaller fireworks in the park.


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"It was total chaos. It was dangerous -- people throwing fireworks all over, total disregard for fellow man. It was a circus," he said. Many people threw lit fireworks into the ocean, polluting the water.

Now, Leonardi believes, it is time to ban all fireworks on the Fourth of July, including popular novelty fireworks that do not require a permit.

"The novelties have just gone crazy. They're so cheap, people buy them by the cart, cartloads, and they give off a lot of smoke," Leonardi said. Many of the brush fires that have been affecting Oahu might have been started by novelty fireworks, he said.

"I can't remember a worse Fourth of July than what we had this year," Leonardi said.

There were 159 brush fires on Oahu during July 3-5, compared with 87 during the same three days last year. About 80 percent of this year's July Fourth brush fires were fireworks-related, Leonardi said.

Unlike firecrackers, novelty fireworks do not require a permit for purchase and are sold at department stores, supermarkets and fireworks stands.

Setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July does not have a strong tradition in Hawaii, but Leonardi believes increased demand and availability of novelty fireworks are changing that, at least on Oahu. And their availability during the dry summer season raises the potential for brush fires.

Hawaii County Fire Chief Darryl Oliveira said there were only 11 fireworks-related incidents reported on the Big Island during the Independence Day weekend. One was a Dumpster fire, and two were canceled before firefighters arrived.

Leonardi said he intends to ask state lawmakers to make fireworks a priority next year, and has already talked to state Senate President Robert Bunda.

Every year, the Honolulu Fire Department introduces legislation for a ban on fireworks. But lawmakers have not given the proposal a public hearing.

"There didn't seem to be a lot of people calling for it," said Sen. David Ige (D, Pearl City-Halawa Heights).

Ige is chairman of the Senate Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, which usually gets first look at proposed fireworks legislation.

State law allows the use of fireworks on New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year's Day and Independence Day.

Since this is the first time anybody is proposing a fireworks ban just for the Fourth of July, Ige said he does not know what kind of public reception it will get.

But he believes the fireworks tradition in Hawaii is much stronger for New Year's Eve than it is for July Fourth.

That is why Leonardi believes a Fourth of July fireworks ban has a much better chance of passage than a complete ban. Leonardi is not proposing a ban on organized fireworks shows, but he said lawmakers need to change the current fireworks definitions to catch up to manufacturers who change their products to skirt the permit requirement.

State senators approved such a bill this past legislative session, but the measure stalled in the state House.

Meanwhile, the 576 brush fires this year (as of yesterday evening) have strained firefighters and department resources, Leonardi said. The flames at one fire even knocked a firetruck out of commission.

Honolulu Fire Department
www.honolulufire.org


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