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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Firecracker permit sales skyrocket on O'ahu

 •  Japanese symbols abound as new year approaches
 •  New Year's Eve celebrations
 •  What's open and closed New Year's Day

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

A last-minute rush yesterday sent firecracker permit sales for New Year's Eve surging past total sales for the entire holiday period last year and threatened to exhaust dwindling supplies at stores and stands.

A shopper peruses the fireworks at the Honolulu Daiei store. Some stores have sold out their inventory of firecrackers.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The city warned permit buyers that they can't get a refund of the $25 city permit fee even if they can't find firecrackers to buy today.

The permits can be used to buy firecrackers only until 9 tonight, if there are any left.

Customers yesterday lined up 20 deep at satellite city halls to buy the $25 permits, then raced around O'ahu as store after store ran out of the little explosives that many Hawai'i residents see as essential to greeting the New Year.

As of 2:15 p.m. yesterday the city had sold 4,718 of the $25 permits, some 300 more than had been sold during the entire holiday period last year.

Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Richard Soo, stunned at a reversal of a declining trend in sales since the permit system started, said "we can only hope that the number of permits this year doesn't exceed the 6,427 sold at New Year's in the year 2000."


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.

The permit system was created three years ago because of complaints that firecrackers on New Year's Eve — traditional in Asian cultures to frighten evil spirits and bring good luck — had become so popular in all ethnic groups in Hawai'i that noise and smoke were creating health problems.

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.

Customers check out the fireworks at "Specialty Holiday Sean Store" on North King Street. The store, which closes at midnight today, carries firecracker bags for $50 and sparkler bags for $1.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

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

Despite the buying surge, Soo said, the department still will not deploy the usual three back-up fire trucks for New Year's Eve, because fireworks-related emergencies seem to be declining, particularly those involving illegal aerial fireworks.

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.

Fireworks rules

• New Year's Eve firecrackers may be set off only between 9 p.m. today and 1 a.m. tomorrow, except within 500 feet of hotels, which means all of Waikiki.

• They may not be exploded near schools, places of worship, healthcare facilities or animal-care facilities.

• It is illegal to set them off in public rights of way, streets and highways, parks or cane fields.

• Aerial fireworks are prohibited except in public displays approved by the fire chief.

• It is illegal for minors to set off firecrackers, except when allowed by parents or guardians and supervised by an adult.

• Most violations of the firecracker laws are misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $2,000. Illegal purchase, possession or use of aerial fireworks is a felony.

"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.