Fireworks linked to injuries, brushfires
by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
After a busy New Year's Eve, Honolulu firefighters renewed their call yesterday for a complete ban on consumer fireworks.
"They're a threat to the community," said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig. "In the past five years we have asked the Legislature for a complete ban on consumer fireworks. O'ahu is too densely populated and the behavior is putting people at risk."
Firefighters responded to 16 incidents on New Year's Eve that appeared to be fireworks-related. They ran the gamut from structure fires to rubbish fires, Seelig said. None of the fires caused major damage.
On New Year's Eve 2008, there were 14 probable fireworks-related incidents.
Meanwhile, paramedics responded to three fireworks-related incidents, including two that left people seriously injured, said city Emergency Services Department spokesman Bryan Cheplic.
The first happened about 12:06 a.m. yesterday in Waipahu, when a man in his 30s was taken to a hospital in serious condition. At 12:15 a.m., a man in his late teens sustained fireworks-related injuries in Wai'anae and was taken in serious condition to a local hospital.
Paramedics also responded to a call in Waimalu of a child under 10 who was apparently injured by fireworks. The child was treated and released at the scene.
Seelig said there were many reports on New Year's Eve of illegal aerial displays.
He also said that he heard people are tampering with the fireworks and making bigger explosive devises.
On New Year's Eve, there were nine brushfires that were probably caused by fireworks, Seelig said. That's nearly four times more wildland fires than on New Year's Eve in 2008.
Rains that swept through O'ahu around 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve helped control any fires from getting out of control, Seelig said.
"From our (HFD) point of view, it was a fairly typical New Year's Eve," he said. "What we saw was a lot of smoke, small nuisance fires that had the potential to grow."
From midnight to 8:45 p.m. yesterday, there were 37 fires that were probably fireworks-related, including a brushfire in Hawai'i Kai.
That blaze started about 11:22 a.m. near the entrance to the Hawaii Kai Golf Course. Seelig said the brushfire burned about five acres before it was extinguished at 2:10 p.m.
The fire did not endanger any homes or structures.
While the fire was under way, firefighters had to briefly close Kalaniana'ole Highway in the area. About 30 firefighters helped put out the fire, along with two helicopters making water drops.
The other fires yesterday that were probably related to fireworks included 16 rubbish fires and eight Dumpster fires.
The noisy New Year's Eve also spurred other calls for bans and more enforcement.
Since 1999, state Rep. Mark Takai, D-34th ('Aiea, Pearl City) has introduced legislation six times to ban fireworks, except for public displays or for religious or ceremonial occasions . Each time the measures have failed.
"The difference this year is that the incidents of abuse with fireworks has increased and stretched over time," Takai said. "We started hearing these loud bomb- sounding noises even before Halloween."
Next month when the state Legislature convenes, Takai said he will again introduce legislation to ban fireworks.
"I only hope that if we had a total ban, then we could control everything," Takai said. "We tried in 2001 to curb fireworks with the permitting process, but clearly that hasn't helped."
Some 7,433 fireworks permits were sold at satellite city halls as of Dec. 30, compared to 6,200 last year.
The $25 permits allow residents to buy 5,000 individual firecrackers. Permits are not needed for other novelty fireworks, such as sparklers.
Aerial fireworks are illegal, unless they're for special displays.
Larry Veray, a Waiau resident and member of the Pearl City Neighborhood Board, would like to see a ban of fireworks go through.
He said he's tired of hearing the loud kabooms and watching the illegal aerials.
"You have to ask, where does it all come from," Veray said. "It's scary when you have that many aerials as we had this year. We have to do something about them."