Jul 3, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff WriterAfter hearing a barrage of concerns from fireworks proprietors about a last-minute ban of their product's use in the county, Fremont County Commissioners on Tuesday revised their emergency fire restrictions to allow limited exceptions.
"The problem we have right now is the confusion we have" about whether people can use fireworks, said Jim Landis, owner of the Flying Phoenix Fireworks business in Lander.
"We have a ton of people that bought fireworks" thinking they are legal to use, Landis said. "Quite frankly, we're going to criminalize them" for lighting fireworks under the ban.
Commissioners on Tuesday morning approved the use of fireworks that do not shoot more than 10 feet high and cover less than a 10-foot radius. The approved fireworks also cannot emit showers of sparks.
Users can light them only on "thoroughly irrigated or thoroughly sprinkled ground and/or in a cleared area" between 8 p.m. and midnight on the Fourth of July, according to the county's newly revised resolution.
Tuesday morning's changes affected the fire resolution approved by three commissioners who gave nods over the phone last Friday outside of regular public session. The revision includes the addition of smoking limitations.
"Smoking in an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials" is permitted, according to the new resolution.
The resolution banning most open fires and other types of fireworks became effective Monday and covers lands under the county's jurisdiction. The decision arrived as others canceled fireworks shows in Lander, Riverton, Dubois, Shoshoni and Pavillion due to fire danger concerns.
Commissioners revised their resolution at the end of an hour-long discussion that included debate over fire concerns and the 11th-hour ban on fireworks in the county.
"Many were wanting people to use common sense out there, and sometimes we have to help people with common sense," Fremont County Fire Protection District chief Craig Haslam said about the need for banning fireworks.
Haslam noted in the last two weeks a striking increase in the abundance of combustible fuel in the county.
"It's drier than it's been at this time of the year in this county than for a very, very long time," he said.
"I don't know we've been in the situation where it's been as dry as it's been before," he said, noting the county has nearly reached the maximum available energy release in fuel sources.
Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson identified concerns about the number of wildfires raging in the state and surrounding area that require Wyoming's resources and equipment.
"I don't think we can take the risk. We risk the ability to use fireworks possibly forever" if a blaze ignites due to their use this year, Hickerson said. "I don't want to see us go that way. I think it's part of our freedom to be able to do that."
Landis noted comments made at the commission's meeting last week that expressed a lack of immediate concern about fireworks. With the restriction imposed by commissioners last Friday, the action would criminalize those who bought fireworks recently, he said.
"I would hope that we could look at this partial ban," Landis said about revising the resolution. He added "the county commissioners have never banned totally" the use of fireworks.
Vern Haas, owner of Cracker Box Fireworks, said limited use of fireworks would help address concerns in the county.
"I think this resolution might work to help law enforcement out as well. They can have their hands full," he said.
Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker said his deputies will use discretion when responding to fireworks situations and issuing citations.
"We're not going to be chasing around, listening for fireworks," he said, adding his agency will respond to calls.
"It's going to tax our resources, I would suspect, tremendously," Hornecker said.
Discussions about banning fireworks arrived late in the game, commissioner Travis Becker said.
"I think we probably could've and
done something then," Becker said about taking action during the June 26 commission meeting rather than a phone action on Friday. "I just don't think that was good policy."
He suggested some kind of a compromise for fireworks in the county, "otherwise ... we're going to criminalize most of the people of Fremont County."
Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the lack of action on June 26 allowed time to develop the fire restrictions.
"I think we wanted to see what the points were, the exceptions, rather than just saying, 'Here it is,'" he said.
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