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UPDATE: Boise Fire Chief 'Outraged' After Idaho House Panel Kills Proposal to Close Illegal Fireworks Loophole


UPDATE: Feb. 13, 2017, 1 p.m.

Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said he was "outraged" over an Idaho Legislature committee's decision to not allow a public hearing on a measure that would have targeted the sale of illegal fireworks in Idaho. The Idaho House State Affairs Committee killed the proposal, offered by House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) that intended to close the loophole in Idaho law which allows the sales of pyrotechnics that the same law declares them to be illegal.

"It was clear by the actions of the committee today they do not care about firefighter safety, or if people’s homes and lives are being destroyed by illegal fireworks every year," said Doan. "The exorbitant cost to taxpayers and local governments, and the fact that six homes in Ada County were burned down last year, was not enough to influence their decision to print a bill which would allow a full hearing and dialogue about this important issue.

Doan said that the June 2016 Tablerock fire in the Boise Foothills, sparked by illegal fireworks, cost taxpayes at least $341,000 in firefighting costs.

ORIGINAL POST: Feb. 13, 2017, 10 a.m.

Boise Weekly
has long chronicled the paradox surrounding Idaho's fireworks dilemma
: People can buy illegal fireworks in the Gem State, they simply have to sign an affidavit promising not to set them off within Idaho's borders.

The June 2016 Table Rock blaze scorched more than 2,500 acres. - BOISE FIRE DEPARTMENT/TWITTER
  • Boise Fire Department/Twitter
  • The June 2016 Table Rock blaze scorched more than 2,500 acres.
The issue literally exploded June 2016 when a fireworks-triggered blaze scorched more than 2,500 acres of the Boise Foothills, causing more than $350,000 in firefighting costs and untold damages to the landscape and wildlife. Earlier this morning, less than a year since the foothills fire, House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) stood before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee, with a proposal to fix the loophole which allows the sale of illegal fireworks in Idaho.

Current Idaho law prohibits fireworks that fly more than 20 feet into the air—bottle rockets and aerial displays—being used for private purposes. Firecrackers are also illegal. Yet plenty of illegal fireworks are sold in Idaho every year. Erpelding said there 40 fireworks-related fires in Idaho in the past two years and 108 fire responses per year due to illegal fireworks.

Illegal fireworks are regularly sold at several Idaho retailers. - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • Illegal fireworks are regularly sold at several Idaho retailers.
"This legislation would require a merchant to ask for identification and a permit for public display before selling illegal fireworks in Idaho," said Erpelding. "The current legislation presents a morality issue. It's similar to us saying, 'You can buy alcohol at the age of 18 as long as you sign an affidavit saying that you're not going to drink that alcohol in Idaho."

Erpelding faced some pushback on his request for a full public hearing on the issue. Some legislators said they had a problem with the wording of the measure, and Rep. Randy Armstong (R-Inkom) said he wasn't happy about the exemption of Native American tribes from the measure.

"I live in a town of 700 people. This past Fourth of July, about 650 of them were lighting up illegal fireworks, and we have only one policeman running around madly, trying to stop them. They were all bought at the nearby Fort Hall Indian Reservation," said Armstong. "I understand your concern about this whole issue, but you refuse to address the source of all of the illegal fireworks in my area of southeast Idaho: the Indian reservation. I'll be voting against this."

Ultimately, Erpelding did not muster enough votes to move his proposal. The measure died with a committee vote of 9 to 6.

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