July 4 fireworks restriction would be a good start
The Legislature is considering a bill that would ban personal fireworks on the Fourth of July.
HONOLULU'S police and fire departments and a majority of Oahu's residents have long wished for prohibition of personal fireworks, and a proposed Fourth of July fireworks ban
would be a good start. Summer weather following winter rains produces an abundance of fuel for brush fires that have flirted with catastrophe in recent years.
State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, whose Public Safety Committee has endorsed such a ban, says it is needed "because it is dangerous to have fireworks during the summer." The proposal also has been approved by the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and has been forwarded to the Judiciary Committee.
Heavy rains from a year ago created vegetative growth that fueled 25 brush fires last Fourth of July. Flames from a brush fire came to the edge of five Makakilo backyards before being extinguished. Firefighters battled other blazes next to Hawaii Kai, Kapolei and Waialua.
Fireworks also pose danger around New Year's Day and the Chinese New Year, in late January or early February, but the dryness in July is an invitation for disaster.
Honolulu Fire Chief Kenneth Silva reports "a significant increase in fire, police and emergency medical incidents" since the Legislature allowed holiday fireworks by consumer permit in 2000. Last year's Legislature made it easier for people to obtain pyrotechnics by allowing retailers instead of counties to issue permits to set them off.
Sen. Fred Hemmings says a fireworks ban on Independence Day would be unpatriotic "when we have men and women fighting in a war." He is correct in saying that the Fourth "is something we should be celebrating with flags and fireworks," and public fireworks displays, conducted by professionals, should be allowed to continue.
While the danger of fire from pyrotechnics might be lower during the winter, air pollution is a major concern in any season. The American Lung Association last April rated Honolulu the third-cleanest city in the nation for its lack of smog or ozone pollution, but it gave the island a D grade for New Year's Eve pollution.
Following the 1999 New Year's celebration, then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, left hoarse from the firecracker smoke, described the festivities as "utter madness" and called for a fireworks ban. Because of legislative inaction, air pollution in the early hours of Jan. 1 continues to exceed safe air quality levels by more than 10 times in some parts of Oahu.
Legislators appear reluctant to protect health and property by enacting a sweeping ban, fearful of alienating holiday celebrants. They should at least limit Fourth of July fireworks to public displays conducted with those protections in place.