PINEDALE – The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) received four firework-related calls the past 10 days. One resulted in a talk with a fire chief, another couldn’t be responded to, the third was unable to be located and the fourth is still awaiting the police report.
This is very few calls compared to a normal year, SCSO Public Information Officer Steve Smith said.
“I think the community was pretty responsible this Fourth. We usually have a lot more calls regarding fireworks. I think with the big fire, the dry weather and people’s understanding of that, there weren’t a lot of fireworks being set off,” he said.
Still, even with the 1988 fireworks ban and dry conditions, some residents obviously wanted a celebration complete with their own pows, cracks and booms. This is a move going forward that fire managers and deputies insist isn’t worth the risk.
Those caught setting off fireworks are at the mercy of a deputy’s discretion, Smith said. The violator could get away with a warning while fireworks are confiscated and destroyed, or a citation could be issued.
In addition to possible fines or, in extreme cases, jail time, those who start fires can face additional costs, according to Pinedale Volunteer Fire Department Chief Alvin Mitchell.
“Where there are ordinances that are prohibiting [fireworks], and you’re in violation with that ordinance and you set a fire, you can be held liable for all the damages and mitigation and everything that occurs from it,” Mitchell said, adding the U.S. Forest Service enforces a similar practice on its lands.
In other words, if a stray firework, or any other fire-starting activity, including accidental cases, causes damage, the person who lit that firework can be held responsible in court.
“Out in California, there was an elderly couple who lost everything they own only because their camper sent sparks in the vicinity [of a Yosemite forest]. The fire ended up costing about $30 million, and they were held liable for all of it,” Mitchell said.
These are certainly extreme cases, but Mitchell warned residents that, considering the extreme drought and the amount of fuel available for burning, fires can get out of control faster than people anticipate.
The Pinedale Fire Department was on high alert for the town’s Fourth of July fireworks display, with multiple trucks available to extinguish fires and a contingency plan in place.
“This year, in our fireworks display, I told the deputies, if you hear a bang or see any fireworks, go over there and get it shutdown ASAP,” Mitchell said. “If there would have been a fire that occurred when we were having our fireworks show, our plan was to just cease [the fireworks] and put an end to the fire.”
This did not become an issue that night, and Mitchell said residents were generally very respectful and took the fire and fireworks bans seriously. Those looking to set off fireworks during Rendezvous or later this summer should be aware of the consequences.
“People should really keep in mind how dry it is and the risk that comes along with fire. Fires, right now with as dry as it is, can develop way faster than they can ever imagine,” he concluded.