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Friday, July 25, 2014         

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Fireworks era ends in smoke and fires

Exploding amusements come out to play before a ban takes effect

By Michael Tsai

POSTED:


Oahu residents celebrated last night not only the coming of the new year, but also the last time in the foreseeable future that they will be able to legally use most types of fireworks.

No more sparklers, fountains, spinners or poppers. From now on, only firecrackers will be legal on Oahu.

So residents like 21-year-old Ty Nitoma of Kalihi partied like it was, well, 2010.

"It sucks that this is the last year," Nitoma said. "What are we going to do next year? It'll be weird."

Nitoma and a group of Kokea Street friends made a last-minute run to Safeway to buy fireworks, then spent the early evening tossing various shrieking, sparkling, popping amusements onto the sticky mud of the Kapalama Canal.

The consensus among Nitoma and his friends was that the new fireworks ban would deprive responsible fireworks users the opportunity to continue what has become a local custom (if not always a bona fide cultural practice) while doing nothing to dampen the illicit aerials market.

Romel Vicente, 38, arrived in Hawaii two years ago from California but quickly adopted the local appreciation for celebrating the new year with pop and circumstance.

"It's a custom that is really all about family and bringing people together," Vicente said. "After a year like this one, where everyone was affected by the economy, you need to get rid of the stress and welcome the new year with a bang. It's all about looking forward to something better."

In the distance, the thundering crack of homemade acetylene balloon bombs echoed through the rows of apartments and empty parking lots, and screeching aerials made brief, mocking appearances in the sky over Kalihi Valley.

At the Pali Longs Drug store, shoppers crowded the fireworks aisle, taking advantage of the store's last-day half-off sale.

David Young, 81, of Kalihi said he had not intended to buy more fireworks, but couldn't pass up the deal.

Still, while he left with a shopping cart loaded with firecrackers, Young said he isn't sad to see the end of Hawaii's fireworks era.

"They should be banned," he said. "They're too dangerous."

For those who preferred to avoid smelling like gunpowder, there was no paucity of alternatives last night as hotels, clubs and restaurants vied for party-primed clientele with a variety of high and low attractions. The Kahala Hotel and Resort ushered in the new year with a "pineapple drop" — a local nod to New York's famous Times Square ball drop — while thirtyninehotel hosted a costumed dance party with an '80s hair-metal theme.

No major incidents were reported in the early part of the evening. As of 8:45 p.m., the Honolulu Fire Department said there appeared to have been five probable fireworks-related fires.

The most serious case was a brush fire in Mililani that scorched about one acre in the gulch behind Noholoa Neighborhood Park, fire spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig said.

It was reported at about 1:48 p.m. and declared extinguished at 3:10, Seelig said.

A second brush fire was reported on Piliokahi Avenue in Nanakuli.

There were also reports of one trash bin fire, a rubbish fire near Fisherman's Wharf and one "other category" fire, meaning it did not involve either a building, brush, trash bin, vehicle or rubbish, he said.

Weather conditions appeared to be favorable for firefighters, he said. Recent rain has made it more difficult for grass or brush to catch fire and, if there is a fire, would slow its movement, Seelig said.

Winds through the afternoon appeared to be light, which also would make it harder to spread, he said. At the same time, the winds appeared to be relatively strong enough to possibly help clear smoke.

"But that remains to be seen," Seelig said.

The National Weather Service predicted light showers for last night, with more rain late today or Sunday morning, "but it doesn't look to be as big or as wet" as the last storm, forecaster Tim Craig said.

Police arrested two men for allegedly selling fireworks illegally in separate incidents yesterday.

Police responding to an alarm at a Mapunapuna warehouse arrested a 66-year-old Kahala man for allegedly trying to sell illegal aerial fireworks from a parked vehicle.

Police also arrested a Kaneohe man, 30, at 6 p.m. yesterday for allegedly selling fireworks without a license at his home on Waikapoki Road.

He was released pending investigation.

Under state law it is a felony to import, store or offer to sell "aerial devices, display fireworks, articles pyrotechnic, or consumer fireworks" without a valid license.

It is also illegal to possess such objects without a valid license to import, store or sell, or a valid display permit.

Police Chief Louis Kealoha said earlier this month that there would be stepped-up patrol and plainclothes officers leading up to and on New Year's Eve to crack down on fireworks violators.






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