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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:54 a.m., Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Sales booming for firecracker permits

Aloha Tower, the Halekulani, the Kahala Mandarin and the Ihilani hotels will present free aerial fireworks shows at or near their properties today at midnight.

By Mike Gordon and Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writers

The sales of firecracker permits continued to skyrocket today like a New Year's Eve aerial, surpassing last year's total but not by enough to prompt the fire department to alter its protection plan.

By the close of business yesterday, the city had issued 5,115 of its $25 permits. Last year, it issued 4,401 permits. Until yesterday, sales had been slow.

Permit-seekers had until 5 p.m. today to get one from a satellite city hall and until 9 p.m. to buy firecrackers, if there are any left.

Customers yesterday lined up 20 deep for permits, then raced around O'ahu as store after store ran out of the noisy explosives that many Hawai'i residents see as essential to greeting the New Year.

Despite the last-minute rush, fire department spokesman Capt. Richard Soo said fire officials this year will not deploy the usual three backup fire trucks for New Year's Eve, because fireworks-related emergencies seem to be declining, particularly those involving illegal aerial fireworks.

And unlike years past, fire officials have not seen a jump in brush fires or pre-New Year's Eve aerials, Soo said.

"So we are really optimistic in terms of fires," Soo said. "We are still going to go with our game plan."

But Soo stressed that the city will still be protected. The fire department will start tracking the number of problems at 4:30 p.m. Problems typically surface closer to midnight.

"After 11:30 p.m., everyone gets ready," he said. "If it is going to happen, it will happen after that."

With a nearly windless weather pattern forecast for tonight, people with breathing problems and allergies may need to seek refuge in air-conditioned quarters or outside urban areas because the pyrotechnic smoke will cling to the ground instead of blowing away.

"I really don't know how long that stuff will be around," said National Weather Service forecaster Tim Craig. "It depends on how much smoke there is."

Even if retailers run out of firecrackers, a shift to "novelty" fireworks, which do not require a permit, will generate additional smoke anyway.

Aston Hawai'i said it was teaming with the American Lung Association to offer kama'aina some air-conditioned shelter from smoke, noise and dangerous roads, with a reduced rate as low as $63 at five of its hotel and condominium properties in Waikiki, which is supposed to be a fireworks-free zone under city ordinance.

Camp Timberline, in the Wai 'anae mountains, was offering a smoke-free refuge from New Year's Eve fireworks for asthma patients and families with young children.

Many residents trying to buy firecrackers yesterday were upset by long lines for permits at satellite city halls, and a permit fee that costs more than the firecrackers themselves.

"Any politician who runs on the fireworks issue after this is going to get elected," said Larry Lomaz, the Mainland owner of Pacific Fireworks. "Right now we have panic buying, and these people are really disgruntled. The people are really unhappy, and it's getting down-right nasty," said Lomaz. "Every two minutes I am telling someone new that it isn't me that is getting the $25 permit fee, it's the city.

"If they want to outlaw firecrackers, outlaw them," Lomaz said. "Don't tax the people into submission, which is what they are doing."

Lomaz, who lobbies lawmakers on fireworks issues nationwide, said the Honolulu permit fee should be reduced to $15, and the city should let the dealers sell the city permits so people don't have to line up twice. Also, he said, that would ensure that people didn't buy permits when firecracker supplies had run out.

Lomaz, who ran a front-page newspaper ad for his firecrackers yesterday, said he expects his outlets will run out by noon today, well before the city stops selling the permits at 4 p.m.

But some customers patiently accepted the routine yesterday as a reasonable way to control the firecrackers, which for years left so much smoke in the air it was unsafe to breathe, let alone drive city streets.

"It's a good way to slow down the sale of firecrackers," said Paul Wong, who was buying 5,000 firecrackers for friends who run the Uptown Cafe, and want to scare evil spirits away from their Okinawan restaurant on River Street.

Others were putting up with the permit process to preserve family traditions.

"It's part of our culture," said truck driver Clement Mahiai of Kapolei. "Our family has been doing this for years, and since I'm the only one off work today, I came down to get the permits."

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054. Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.