Independence Day fires up neighborhoods

Officers say sources of illegal displays difficult to track

Courtesy photo by John Klassen
Fireworks filled the night sky above Sweetwater Park in Lone Tree on July 4. In the south metro area, there were plenty of professional fireworks displays like this one, but there were also many complaints of illegal displays in neighborhoods.
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Two years of severe fire restrictions contributed to a cavalcade of fireworks last week in Douglas County neighborhoods — both legal and illegal.

Law officers wrote few complaints, however, saying the sources of the pyrotechnics are elusive.

“There is no doubt there were plenty of fireworks that were shot off that were illegal,” said Sgt. Ron Hanavan, of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. “We did take numerous complaints, but much of them we were unable to locate. Unless neighbors call and say, `This is where it happened,' it's difficult to find out where they're coming from.”

Sheriff's deputies didn't cite anyone for fireworks-related violations over the Fourth of July weekend. Lone Tree Police issued one citation July 5 in RidgeGate stemming from a fireworks complaint.

Complicating matters further, not all fireworks were banned this year, making it harder to distinguish the legal devices from the illegal ones.

Fireworks that leave the ground or produce a loud bang were illegal this year. Fireworks including some fountains, wheel and ground spinners, sparklers, toy smoke devices, snakes and glow worms were among the permissible items.

Like Hanavan, Lone Tree Police Chief Jeff Streeter acknowledged there was a high volume of neighborhood fireworks.

“I think some people had stored them away for a couple of years and figured, `This is the time,' ” he said. “It didn't help that the media was out there saying we didn't have any fire restrictions.”

Streeter echoed Hanavan's comments on the challenge of tracing the source of illegal fireworks.

“If we're in a neighborhood and we see illegal fireworks, it is our obligation to tell them to knock it off,” he said. “I leave it up to the discretion of the officer to write (a citation). But it's very, very difficult to run those down.”

Streeter said his department didn't receive many complaints.

“I think the community is more inclined to call in complaints in a dry year,” he said. “There might have been a level of leniency this year because of the past two to three years. Some people might have said, `Give them a little bit of a break.' ”

South Metro Fire responded to a small, resident-contained brush fire near downtown Parker mid-day July 4; fireworks were the suspected source. They also assisted Littleton firefighters at a two-house fire in Highlands Ranch in the early hours of July 5. Fireworks that were improperly disposed of and hadn't yet cooled are suspected in that blaze as well.

For sheriff's deputies, Hanavan said stemming the tide of illegal fireworks is also a matter of staffing and priorities. The Fourth of July holiday is among the most taxing of the year.

“It is a very, very busy weekend for us,” he said. “We were running from call to call.

“We know fireworks can cause fires, even when everybody's doing everything right. Generally, we have zero tolerance, especially for safety considerations. But our call volume throughout the weekend is extremely high. We have to constantly re-evaluate priorities. And that's why we really encouraged folks to go to the professional shows, and just do the right thing.”