Grand Junction’s growing illegal fireworks problem

Kids playing with illegal fireworks on 7/4/2019 started a fire that threatened to burn eight houses on the Redlands.

Independence Day in Mesa County offers fun and entertainment for many, but also causes fear, anxiety, property loss and taxpayer expense from fires and injuries.

This year, kids playing with illegal fireworks started a wildfire that endangered eight houses on the Redlands. The residents were briefly ordered to evacuate.

In 2015, people using illegal fireworks set a field on fire on Chestnut Drive in northwest Grand Junction. The fire got so big that it required the help of fire departments and law enforcement from Clifton, Lower Valley and East Orchard Mesa, the Bureau of Land Management, the Grand Junction Police Department, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol.

What is an illegal firework?

Illegal fireworks

ANY firework that leaves the ground or explodes is ILLEGAL. This includes bottle rockets, cherry bombs, aerial shells, M-80s, etc.

Legal fireworks don’t make loud noises, don’t leave the ground and don’t move if tipped. A big part of the problem is that under Colorado law, selling or using illegal fireworks is a Class 3 misdemeanor that carries $50 to $750 fine and up to six months in jail — basically just a slap on the wrist, and even that small penalty is practically unenforced in Mesa County.

Residents must increasingly endure scofflaws who set off illegal fireworks not just on the holiday, but for days before and afterwards. These dangerous and offensive fireworks jolt people from sleep, send combat veterans diving under their beds for cover and drive anxiety-filled pets, trembling in fear, to jump fences or cram themselves behind major appliances.

But the awful noise is just one aspect of the problem. Illegal fireworks threaten our community in other ways:

  • They cause serious fires that spread quickly in hot weather and dry conditions, threatening people’s homes and personal property;
  • They cause serious injuries and severe burns, increasing emergency room visits,
  • They unnecessarily tie up taxpayer-funded emergency response and medical resources that law-abiding citizens may need at the same time.

Harm is well-established

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says consumer fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires every year across the country, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 16,900 other types of exterior fires. On average fireworks kill three people, injure 40 civilians, and cause $43 million in property damage every year. Sparklers alone, which many people believe are safe, burn at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and account for more than one quarter of all emergency room visits.  Males are disproportionately affected by fireworks burns and injuries, too; 70% of all reported victims of fireworks injuries are male.

Every year since 1976 (pdf) between 7,000 and 12,000 people have been seriously injured by fireworks nationally. People lose vision, fingers, hands, legs, hearing, and even their lives in fireworks accidents. Survivors are often left with life-long disabilities, further costing society. In 2010, a teenager who had hoped to join the Marines was permanently disfigured (video) after bottle rockets he was carrying in his pocket were accidentally set on fire by a burning ember. In 2011, a North Dakota man was decapitated by an illegal firework. On July 4, 2018, a  Baltimore man had his fingers blown off when using fireworks. The next day he shared what had happened to him with the public in a news segment, to try and warn people. In April, 2019, 13 year old Javonte McNair in Ft. Lauderdale, FL had his hand blown off (video) and eye injured from an illegal firework. And in case you think people in general have the ability to handle fireworks intelligently, this video compilation of fireworks fails will dispel that myth. It shows how incredibly thoughtless people can be when handling fireworks, and that people intentionally use them in ways that cause serious bodily harm to others. This video shows some yahoos playing with illegal fireworks and almost setting their neighborhood on fire.

Illegal fireworks

But all the injuries, deaths and property damage associated with illegal fireworks hasn’t stopped Grand Valley residents from using them. Instead, the problem is increasing. That, and a complacent attitude of local law enforcement, means the problem will continue to get bigger until it gets out of control. By then it will cost a lot more to address it, if that is even possible.


Zero consequences for using illegal fireworks

Local newscasts reported area law enforcement agencies received 130 calls for illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July, but that NO citations were issued, and police only gave out warnings. Why? Megan Terlecky of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office said, “Our staff can’t get to all calls,” and that law enforcement resources on July 4th this year were largely diverted to the Redlands fire. She also pointed out that by the time officers respond to illegal fireworks calls, the fireworks had usually stopped. Terlecky said the MCSO’s main concern on the Fourth of July is fires, which keep emergency responders very busy. She also said that in addition to the fires caused by fireworks — their main priority — officers had to respond to all the normal calls they usually get for medical help, domestic violence etc.

The problem is already overwhelming local emergency response resources, so why isn’t the local government doing anything to address the problem?

If the City’s lax attitude towards the use of illegal fireworks continues, the problem will continue to grow. Want to see what’s in our future if they continue to ignore this problem? Just look at Santa Ana, California. That city turned a blind eye to the use of illegal fireworks and now every year Santa Ana becomes a de-facto war zone (video) every Independence Day, with scofflaws shooting off illegal fireworks throughout the city, endangering drivers, pedestrians, bike riders and even people inside their own homes.

Let’s not let that happen here. It’s time to recognize the problem and take action.

Local government could take a LOT of proactive action to curtail illegal fireworks if it wanted to, much of which could be done at little or no cost.

Here are some of the things other communities across the country have done, or are doing to address the problem:

— Provide a website that clearly delineates which fireworks are legal and which are illegal, and list the penalties for use of illegal fireworks, so people know what illegal fireworks are.

— Los Angeles has a website that allows people with just a few clicks to create their own highly visible yard signs that say “We oppose illegal fireworks.” The signs display a phone number where people can report use of illegal fireworks. Visitors click on the link, pick a sign size, and click to send the print job to the print shop of their choice, like a Copy Copy or Office Max. Everyone pays for their own sign, but the effect is the look of an area-wide campaign to make people aware that neighbors are watching and will quickly report their illegal fireworks. Here is an example of such a site, and signs provided by the City of Los Angeles:

— The City could increase the fines for use and possession of illegal fireworks, and then issue press releases and hold press conferences informing the public about the increase in penalties.
— The City could provide a webform that people could fill out to report illegal fireworks and upload videos or photos of the fireworks in use, the address where they were used, the time, descriptions of the people setting them off, etc.
— The City could create a web page showing the annual taxpayer cost of responding to illegal fireworks.
— Law enforcement could announce a zero-tolerance policy for illegal fireworks, and initiate an “If you light it, we’ll write it” campaign, and then follow through by writing tickets for violating the law instead of giving warnings.
—Law enforcement agencies could carry out stings to buy illegal fireworks and then prosecute sellers, and get word will get out about the crackdown.
—The City could initiate robocalls or reverse 911 calls prior to the Fourth of July warning people about the dangers of illegal fireworks, and telling them who to call if someone in their neighborhood sets them off.
—They could also institute a 24 hour hotline to report illegal fireworks, for people who don’t have internet access.

Fireworks are on their way out anyway across the state and the country, and for good reason. There are smarter, quieter, safer and more awesome alternatives that are a wiser investment of taxpayer dollars.

ALL fireworks are already illegal in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins, Golden, Commerce City, Arvada, Arapahoe, Edgewater, Sheridan, Greenwood Village, Adams County, Jefferson County, Lafayette, Lakewood, Littleton, Louisville, Morrison, Northglenn, Wheat Ridge, Vail and Windsor. And that’s just Colorado. Many major cities have made all fireworks illegal.

Increasingly, old-fashioned fireworks shows are being replaced by

Drone light shows, and no wonder. They make far more sense. They aren’t just a far safer alternative, but a far better investment of taxpayer money, too. Drone shows don’t force municipalities to burn up tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year on a fireworks show. Instead, a municipality can purchase drone light show equipment, create its own unique, proprietary show and take the money it would have burned every year putting on a fireworks show and instead use it to augment its own show by adding more drones every year to make the show ever more spectacular and keep crowds coming back for more. A 20-drone show is more of a “wow” than you would think. It only takes just 100 drones to make amazing, three-dimensional graphics in the air. Copper Mountain has started putting on a drone show on Saturdays this summer to try to pull travelers off I-70 who would otherwise bypass their community and go to Vail.
My guess is Copper Mountain will be rewarded for being forward-thinking and investing in this spectacular, new, awesome, safer technology. I also predict some day in the near future, just like cigarette smoking, fireworks will become obsolete.


  6 comments for “Grand Junction’s growing illegal fireworks problem

  1. It’s a mistake to believe that any part of the Grand Junction city government is run for the benefit of the people, including the police department. The city gives away millions of dollars in direct grants, tax breaks and sweetheart land deals to the business establishment every year. Yet it cannot fully fund a functioning police department. Don’t expect any help if you call the cops. The standard line is to make a report on-line where it is filed and forgotten. Still. the downtown business community gets its own cops and if some poor kid boosts a pack of gum at Wal-Mart they will empty out the station to apprehend that dangerous criminal.

  2. Typical backwards thinking that more laws are going to fix everything. This is just a ploy to garner support all for policing for profit for city revenue. Take the fun out of it by making them legal, then it’s no longer an issue. Except for the 90 year old lady that complains about everything and calls the police because she heard a noise. Which is just about 80% of Grand Junction Police Department calls. Most of the surrounding states allow most of the above fireworks without any major issues. The only problem we see is transplants moving into our state trying to make it California 2.0, where everything is illegal.

    • You like loud sounds and bright lights in private? Hit yourself in the ears and eyes – its cheaper and it’s tax free.

  3. I love the 4th just as much as everyone else but not April through October. Usually we try to go camping for mine and my dogs sanity or I will rent a hotel room on Horizon for the night. It seems to have gotten better in Fruitvale this year compared to previous years where every weekend we would hear them. My neighbor directly across the street also was lighting the illegals on weekends after a few beers even knowing how much it bothered me. And forget calling the cops on your neighbors if you want to remain friendly because the cops will tell them who reported them if asked. I think if that info was not given out I definitely would report them.

    • Illegal fireworks are a NIGHTMARE. Why are they allowed to be sold AT ALL in such a dry area is beyond me. Just ban them already! Save a load of money in taxpayer funded emergency costs. I like the idea of drone shows. Fireworks create terrible air and water pollution too.

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