Lighting fireworks usually happens in times of celebration, but even then, doing so could lead to dire consequences, especially when the aftermath affects hundreds.
That was the case Tuesday afternoon when crews from multiple agencies responded to a brush fire on Ludden Mountain in the northeast area of 67th Avenue and Happy Valley Road.
The preliminary cause was determined to be three 16-year-old teenagers lighting fireworks nearby. At least one of those items sparked enough to ignite a fire on the mountain.
The teens admitted their actions to police and fire officials, and were released back to their parents. Fire investigators and the Phoenix Police Department determined the fire to be accidental, although a report will be turned over to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for review.
“This is another reminder of the high fire danger conditions that currently exist,” Phoenix Fire Department Capt. Rob McDade stated in an email. “Please use caution and remind your children of the dangers of fire and fireworks.”
That reminder should be 10-fold with the expected increase in brush fires in Arizona this year. However, most of the brush fires in Arizona in 2019 have occurred miles from heavily-populated neighborhoods.
The Woodbury Fire in the Tonto National Forest started June 8 and has grown to over 50,000 acres. An evacuation was put into effect for the communities of Roosevelt and Roosevelt Lake. The communities of Gold Canyon and Apache Junction are about 10 miles from the fire, and meetings were held this week to discuss protocols and future actions.
Other brush fires in northwest Maricopa County have been deemed human-caused but accidental. Luckily, no one has had to be displaced.
With the so-called Rey Fire in northwest Phoenix, the flames and smoke had a potential to affect thousands of residents in Phoenix, Glendale and Peoria. Those three cities share the intersection of 67th and Happy Valley, with businesses, Christ Church of the Valley, and Glendale Community College in the vicinity.
Crews battled the 20 to 25-acre second-alarm brush fire from multiple points on the mountain, using brush trucks, tankers, and nearby engine companies. The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the Peoria, Glendale and Phoenix Fire departments, and the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority were among the agencies on scene.
“Once the homes were protected and out of danger, crews were able to use all of the resources to contain and eventually extinguish the fire,” Mr. McDade said.
“Air units were dispatched to assist in fire control, but were not needed thanks to the aggressive attack on the fire by crews on scene.”
Two state land firefighters sustained minor injuries and were taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.
When you wonder how many people were affected, keep in mind that crews from at least five agencies responded and tackled the fire from many points. The Glendale Fire Department posted a photo of over 25 vehicle assignments around the mountain. That’s probably two to four officials per vehicle, and possibly more on the ground.
Then there are the hundreds of residences and businesses in the area.
One of the main points coming out of this fire is that it was definitely human-caused via the teens’ admittance to using fireworks.
As mentioned, brush fires are popping up throughout the state. Preventing as many as possible comes down to people practicing safe use of flammable objects or items that can start fires.
For fireworks, certain consumer-grade types are legal in Arizona between June 24 and July 6. Those include fountain fireworks, ground spinners, sparklers and some novelty items, like glow worms. Despite being legal in that timeframe, any use outside of it could result in a fine of $1,000.
Anything that launches into the air or explodes, like Roman candles, are illegal year-round. Pointing one in the wrong direction could result in serious bodily harm, fire inspector Dan Farren told Cronkite News in 2018.
Fireworks regulations, including uses and violations fall under Arizona Revised Statutes 36-1601 to 36-1609. Municipalities cannot set their own time frames and must work under statute.
Fireworks are never allowed on state or federal lands at any time.
Tiffany Davila, fire marshal for the DFFM, said local law enforcement issue citations for illegal use. Those would be a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Fireworks are never allowed to be sold to persons under the age of 16.
“I do not know the circumstances of the outcome of yesterday’s fire, but generally-speaking, parents can be held responsible,” Ms Davila said of Tuesday’s incident.
“People need to understand that we have a heavy grass crop due to last winter’s excessive moisture,” she continued. “That fuel load acts as a conduit to other vegetation. Fires starting within those dried out grasses can start very quickly and spread rapidly.”
Arizona is going into Stage 1 Fire restrictions this week. As a result, fireworks are not allowed to be in use.
About 280 people go to emergency rooms nationwide with fireworks-related injuries in the month surrounding the July 4 holiday, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Federal explosives regulations promoted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives define two general categories of fireworks sold in the U.S.: “display fireworks” and “consumer fireworks.”
Display fireworks are large fireworks used in shows, usually under supervision of a trained pyrotechnician. Any person engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing, dealing in, or receiving display fireworks must first obtain a federal explosives license or permit from the ATF for specific activity.
Consumer fireworks are small fireworks usually sold at stands around the Fourth of July. The ATF does not regulate them like display fireworks. However, other federal, state, and local agencies regulate them to a varying degree.
Because consumer fireworks contain pyrotechnic compositions classified by the ATF as explosive materials, the manufacturing of consumer fireworks requires a federal explosives license from the ATF.
There were an estimated 12,900 fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries in 2017, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s latest report in 2018. About 67% of the estimated annual fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries for 2017 occurred during the month surrounding the Fourth of July holiday, between June 16, 2017 and July 16, 2017. During that period, sparklers were the number one cause of injuries, accounting for 14% of the estimated injuries.
In CPSC’s 2017 report, five of eight deaths were related to reloadable aerial devices; one was associated with devices manufactured at home, one involved a firecracker, and one was related to sparklers. Seven victims died from direct impacts of fireworks, and one victim died in a house fire caused by misusing a firecracker.
As nearly 800 firefighters try to contain the Woodbury Fire, which was 41% contained as of Thursday, resources don’t need to be pulled from assignments because of human error elsewhere.
“We do not need another large-scale fire, and we do have the potential with the dry grasses and brush across the Sonoran Desert,” Ms. Davila said.
“We all need to take extreme caution when using fire.”