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Hawaii News | Volcanic Ash

Short of banning fireworks, at least pass a decent law

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A 200-acre fire in Kalama Valley caused by illegal Fourth of July aerial fireworks might light a fire under City Councilman Gary Okino’s bill to totally ban consumer fireworks on Oahu.

If Council members aren’t ready to eliminate all fireworks except the professional shows because of objections from the industry and cultural groups, they must at least undertake a major crackdown on illegal professional-grade rockets, which cause most of the problems.

The Council, which has passed the proposed fireworks ban out of committee, will meet again next Wednesday on the measure, which is possible under a new law signed by Gov. Linda Lingle that allows the counties to set more stringent fireworks regulations than the state.

It’s astounding that nothing has been done to protect the community as dangerous and illegal aerial rockets fill our holiday skies like mortar rounds year after year.

For professional aerial fireworks displays such as the show at Magic Island, authorities set a 300-yard safety zone around the launch area. Yet residents of congested city neighborhoods are subjected to having similar illegal rockets launched a few feet from their homes by people who have no safety training and often have been drinking heavily.

The potential for tragedy was seen in the Kalama Valley fire, which threatened homes and prompted evacuations, and a deadly incident in 2000 when an illegal aerial gone astray was believed responsible for a house fire in Palolo Valley that killed an 81-year-old woman.

Police say the main problem with enforcing laws against illegally imported aerials is that officers have to actually see them lit to issue citations, which suggests a very poorly written law.

Police don’t have to see a bank robber hand a note to the teller to make an arrest. They don’t have to see a car thief jimmying the lock to slap on the handcuffs. They can use eyewitness accounts and physical evidence for those crimes, and there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for illegal fireworks.

It’s pretty easy to spot which houses the aerials are coming from, and a police visit to the property likely would find a smoking launcher, other illegal rockets awaiting launch and guys with gunpowder residue on their hands.

If a bumper crop of marijuana plants is found in your garage, you’re busted whether the police saw you plant the pot or not. The same liability should apply when dangerous illegal explosives are found on a homeowner’s property.

If police had an effective law to work with, and for a couple of nights a year they pursued fireworks violators with the same zeal as "Click It or Ticket," we could clear our skies in no time.

David Shapiro can be reached at or


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