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Ogden City implements full ban on fireworks, open flames; prohibition could last through fall

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Jun 25, 2021

OGDEN — After much discussion and analysis, Ogden City has implemented an outright ban on fireworks and open flames anywhere inside city limits until nearly Thanksgiving.

During a Thursday night special Ogden City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve a joint resolution with the Ogden administration that prohibits the use of fireworks, open burnings, and recreational fires anywhere in the city — a restriction that will extend until Nov. 15 or until environmental conditions improve, as determined by the city fire marshal.

Discussed in city circles for several weeks now, the ban is driven by Utah’s ongoing drought.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, 100% of Weber County is in a “severe drought,” the third most significant drought classification under the NIDIS monitoring system. NIDIS says 65% of the county is in the “extreme drought” phase, the second most significant classification. According to the NIDIS, all of the following can be present during an extreme drought: pasture and water is inadequate for cattle, air quality is poor, dust is a problem, vegetation is stressed and fire danger increases dramatically.

Ogden Fire Department Deputy Chief Shelby Willis said Northern Utah’s current fire conditions are more severe than ever before.

“Typically our wildland season begins June 1,” Willis said. “This year, the forestry service contacted us at the beginning of April and asked us to be prepared to begin our wildland mitigation practices as of April 15. We’ve had numerous fires since (then).”

As other Ogden officials have mentioned in previous discussions on the drought, Willis noted an approximately 40-acre fire that broke out in May 2020 near the mouth of Ogden Canyon. Willis said the fire threatened several homes and damaged city infrastructure. She said 20 units and multiple fire departments worked to tame the blaze.

“The interesting perspective of this fire isn’t only the number of resources … we had on the scene,” Willis said. “It was the amount of water that we used. We used over 4 million gallons of water to extinguish one fire.”

Extinguishing a similar fire is water the city simply can’t afford to lose at the current stage of the drought, officials have reasoned.

Ogden Fire Marshal Kevin Brown said the ban, at least theoretically, could extend to public fireworks displays. He said licensed and insured vendors seeking to put on fireworks shows in Ogden will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Brown said a violation of the ban could result in a class B misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine. Individuals could also be responsible for the costs of any potential fire that may occur as a result of them violating the order. Residents can report fires and fireworks to the Weber Area Consolidated Dispatch Center at 801-629-8221.

“We (will) enforce to the full extent of our abilities,” Brown said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck.”

The ban does not impact a fireworks vendor’s ability to sell aerial pyrotechnics, Brown said, so citizens will continue to see the various fireworks stands that are now set up at locations around the city. But Brown said fire officials will be out distributing and posting information about the ban wherever vendors are operating.

Ogden officials have been discussing a fireworks ban for several weeks now, but like many other cities across the state, there has been some question about a city’s legal authority to do so. Several council members said Thursday they felt that the Utah Legislature failed to meet the moment after they declined to ban fireworks this year, or at least clarify existing statute regarding a municipality’s power on the matter.

“I’m quite upset at our Legislature for tying our hands on this issue and then running and hiding and leaving this to us,” said council member Rich Hyer. “They’ve made this thing that requires, I think admittedly, a very broad reading … of this statute. I think we need to call on our legislators to add another section to this statute which gives municipalities clearer direction to do this in circumstances like we find ourselves today.”

“They’ve dropped the ball on this one,” added council member Doug Stevens, echoing Hyer’s criticisms of the Legislature.

Hyer said a line in the state statute that says a municipality can implement fireworks bans in areas that are “mountainous, brush covered, forest covered or dry grass covered” is what convinced him the city’s action was appropriate under the law.

“Normally we don’t have dry, grass covered areas,” Hyer said. “But this year, where we’ve asked our citizens to restrict watering, we have dry grass and … other vegetation that would also ignite much quicker than normal.”

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