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Idaho's Dangerous Dance With Fireworks

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The Table Rock fire consumed 2,500 acres. - BOISE FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Boise Fire Department
  • The Table Rock fire consumed 2,500 acres.


Following the Table Rock fire, which was triggered June 30 by illegal fireworks and consumed more than 2,500 acres of the Boise Foothills, Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said he has seen enough.

Doan said he is now prepared to lobby the Idaho Legislature to ban fireworks that—paradoxically—are legal to sell in Idaho but aren't legal to use.

"It's ironic, isn't it? They sell them but then tell you you can't use them here," said Dr. Kenneth Bramwell, an emergency medicine specialist at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center. "Who is kidding who? I'm pretty sure those illegal fireworks are being lit up where people live. And that means they're shooting them off in Boise."

Idaho fireworks merchants come in all shapes and sizes: a few are as big as a Costco, with giant aisles to accommodate oversized shopping carts, and others are makeshift stands or tents that pop up in and around Boise just prior to the Fourth of July. 

Michael Beus manages the Outlet Fireworks stand on Broadway Avenue in Boise, one of the more modest, temporary merchants.

“The best part is seeing the kids with the biggest smiles,” said Beus, now in his eighth year of selling fireworks. “I’m a people person, and what’s great about the smaller stands is that we see more people, especially on the Fourth—it’s our busiest day.”
GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice

Beus's items have a pretty wide range of prices: there are the 25 cent "Party Poppers" all the way to the $41.95 “Amazing Fountain,” which promises to shoot colorful sparks eight feet into the air.

Other popular items include "Chicken Laying Eggs," which shoot colored eggs when lit, and the "Flippin' Awesome Fountain," emitting sparks of silver and blue.

Beus is quick to point out that all the fireworks at his location meet the city of Boise's “safe and sane” legal standard, which states unlawful fireworks include anything that shoots more than 20 feet vertically or from which discharged material falls beyond a 20 foot diameter.

Meanwhile, temporary shops in Caldwell, Homedale, Middleton, Nampa and other Treasure Valley locations offer some fireworks that would be illegal by Boise standards. Those items might include bottle rockets, Roman candles and cherry bombs.

“If I were to to light off a big firework, I’ll usually call the fire department and let them know where I am,” Beus said.

The Boise Fire Department reported seven firework-sparked blazes during the 2015 Fourth of July holiday period. Additionally, the department logged 83 reported calls.

“July 4 is definitely a busy day for us,” said Tammy Berry, communications coordinator for the Boise Fire Department. “If we run about 22,000 calls a year, that would average 60 calls per day, so as you can see from the total number of runs [from last year], we run more calls on July 4 than normal.”
GUNNAR PIPPEL
  • Gunnar Pippel

The city of Boise only allows fireworks sales in the city limits from June 24 through July 5. A number of the stands are managed by charitable organizations. For example, one temporary fireworks shop on West Fairview Avenue in Boise is operated by Boise Rescue Mission Ministries, where 100 percent of the proceeds go toward helping men, women and children in need.

“This is only our second year doing this, but we expect a great turnout just like last year,” said Zoey Henry, member of City Light Home for Women and Children. Natalie Gallegos, also a member of City Light, added, “In a few days, people will drive by, see us and say, ‘Oh no! It’s July. We better pull over and grab some fireworks.’”

Customers buy it all, Henry explained, including sparklers and Ground Blooms, which emit small-scaled balls of sparks from the ground, to more high-priced variety packs.

“People will drop 200 to 300 bucks on our larger variety packs” said Henry.

“Any they’ll tend to spend more knowing their money goes toward a great cause,” Gallegos added. 

As for firefighters, they would much rather the public enjoy a more controlled fireworks experience. The Treasure Valley's biggest display will once again be in Boise's Ann Morrison Park, at sundown on Monday, July 4.