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Impact of July 4 fireworks ban reviewed

Jul 25, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission's 11th-hour decision to impose restrictions on Independence Day fireworks raised concerns about how the board should handle similar actions in the future.

"It wasn't the greatest having our meeting just prior to the Fourth," commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said about the board's action July 3.

The partial fire ban severely restricted the use of fireworks on the holiday. The action revised an earlier emergency fire restriction, which was made by three commissioners who gave their approval June 29 over the telephone.

"In hindsight, I wish we would've had the meeting before the meeting on the 3rd," Hickerson said during the board's meeting July 10.

Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker agreed and said the board should have discussions sooner on the matter.

At the same time, the commission should take action if the weather reduces the fire danger in the county, Hornecker said.

"Don't forget, if we get a monsoon, you've got to lift the restrictions," he said.

The last-minute restrictions caused concern in the county because of the significant threat the fire conditions posed.

"Fremont County Commissioners displayed an unbelievable lack of good judgment, common sense and serious disregard for the safety of the citizens of Fremont County," wrote Robert Spengler, of Lander, in a letter published in The Ranger and Lander Journal. "They reversed their ban on fireworks in the county and for four hours put us all at extreme danger, both our personal safety and that of our property, as they caved to the special interests of a couple of fireworks sellers."

Hornecker presented commissioners with a report of law enforcement dispatch activity over the Fourth of July holiday. Last year's holiday had 16 fire calls with six wildfire incidents, compared to 10 calls this year with four incidents.

"I can't tell you they were directly related to fireworks," Hornecker said before quickly adding, "It's a pretty safe bet when you have a grass fire on the Fourth of July it's probably related to fireworks."Regarding general calls for service that resulted in dispatching a deputy, last year, from July 2 to July 4, there were 79 calls with five fireworks complaints. The figures compared to 137 calls with 34 fireworks complaints from July 3 to July 5 this year.

The sheriff's communication center received 544 phone calls on Independence Day including 467 through regular administration lines and 77 from 911 callers. Of the calls received on the holiday, 132 were calls for service.

Call volumes increased as the day progressed, with an average of 28 phone calls an hour between noon and 6 p.m. and 39 calls per hour from 6 p.m. until midnight.

Hornecker told commissioners his dispatch received numerous phone calls regarding fireworks following the board's decision July 3.

"We got inundated," he said about questions from the public.

Hickerson questioned whether a standard policy for fire restrictions in the county could help alleviate questions and confusion about what citizens could do on the holiday.

"Certainly it would probably ease a lot of that confusion," Hornecker said.

Problems will continue regardless of the restrictions in place, the sheriff added.

"No matter what kind of restriction we have, you're still going to have violators," Hornecker said, noting last year people complained about fireworks that were legal to ignite.