Newly legal fireworks use, sales not exactly exploding

Posted Jan. 01, 2012, at 11:15 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — For those expecting Maine to come booming into 2012 as it becomes legal to buy and use fireworks in the state Jan. 1, the new year might come with a flicker of disappointment.

Despite a new state law allowing the sale and use of consumer fireworks, there is not yet a single legal fireworks retailer. In fact, the state Fire Marshal’s Office hasn’t even received an application to sell fireworks, said Richard Taylor, the department’s senior research and planning analyst.

The state had anticipated that some retailers, both Maine-based and from away, would jump at the chance to sell an expanded range of backyard pyrotechnics. But building codes, costs of entering the market, the fact that the law comes into effect just after New Year’s and the spread of municipal ordinances that will continue to restrict fireworks in most of Maine’s larger urban centers have conspired to delay the arrival of fireworks outlets.

“We guessed — and we’re going to have guessed wrong — 13 [fireworks stores]” would open in Maine after the law passed, Taylor said.

Taylor does expect to see more people using fireworks around the state. And he expects some retailers to be open by July. “If I don’t see anything by then, I’ll be really puzzled,” he said.

The slow rate of change has allowed local fire and police departments to take a “wait and see” approach to preparing for increased fireworks usage, Auburn Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen said.

In Lewiston, a move to ban fireworks within city limits failed when two councilors who supported the ordinance didn’t show up to vote on its second reading. Fire officials plan to present several proposals to completely or partially ban fireworks to the new City Council after it has been sworn in this month.

“I’m comfortable with the fact that we’ll be taking this issue up in early January,” Fire Chief Paul Leclair said. “I’m not expecting a wave of fireworks to overcome us.”

Until a new ordinance is discussed and voted on, it will be up to fire and police crews to respond to incidents regarding fireworks use and determine whether they are legal, he said.

Although residents can buy fireworks in neighboring New Hampshire and use them in towns here that have not banned them, Maine state law is considerably more restrictive when it comes to which products are allowed, Leclair said.

“What’s purchased out of state I don’t think necessarily will qualify as being legal within the state of Maine,” he said.

There is a huge difference between the sort of high-powered, aerial fireworks used in professional Fourth of July shows and what amateurs can use in their back yards, Leclair said.

“If we see people using those tomorrow, we know they’re illegal,” and fire officials have the jurisdiction to confiscate them, he said.

In Auburn, which banned the sale and use of all consumer fireworks besides the sparklers and snappers that were previously available, new enforcement measures are likewise low key.

“The only thing we’re doing is reviewing the city ordinance banning fireworks,” Moen said. “We’re not going to be conducting stings,” he said.

Fireworks “will be available other places in Maine,” and people will get them, Moen said. But “if you bring them to Auburn, they’ll be illegal.”

 

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