COLORADO’S UNENLIGHTENMENT: Fireworks for sale, but not for use


AURORA | The top shelf of Pop, Bang, Boom, Fireworks is lined with fountains boasting clever names like “That’s Toxic,” “Party Keg,” and “1.21 Gigawatts.”

One of the more popular items is a $24.50 behemoth dubbed “The Foreign Policy Maker.”

Buying fireworks from stands like Pop, Bang, Boom at Parker Road and East Florida Avenue is perfectly legal, and the stand’s owner, Steve Deden, said business is brisk.

“We are just doing the same as always,” he said, patriotic songs blasting from nearby speakers and dozens of American flags flapping in the hot June breeze.

But with a statewide fireworks ban in place, lighting fireworks in Colorado is illegal. That disconnect — the law lets you buy fireworks, just not use them — is proving to be a pain for local law enforcement.

“It’s as or more confusing and frustrating than its ever been,” said Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order June 14 that bans all private fireworks around the state. The ban came down after several wildfires broke out in areas hit hard by this year’s drought. One, the High Park Fire in Larimer County, was started by lightning in early June and has since burned more than 80,000 acres, making it the second biggest Colorado wildlife in recorded history.

“We can’t completely eliminate the threat of wildfire because there’s no way to control Mother Nature,” Hickenlooper said in a statement announcing the ban. “But we can take steps to reduce the risks of more wildfires starting. This ban is a necessary step to help protect people, property and the beautiful state we live in.”

Every summer, the state’s web of fireworks laws leads to confusion. Under the law, stands like Deden’s are allowed in unincorporated areas, but municipalities can ban them. Aurora, like many Colorado cities, has long had a ban on the sale, possession and use of fireworks.

Arapahoe County could have instituted its own ban after the governor’s executive order came down, but county officials said the calendar was working against them. With a state law requiring 10 days to publicly post a planned ban, by the time the ban went into effect county officials said it wouldn’t have been worth it.

Stands like Deden’s are only allowed to operate from June 15 to July 7 anyway.

Still, while sales are allowed, simply possessing fireworks can land Fourth of July revelers in trouble.

In some instances, a fireworks stand on one side of the street in Arapahoe County can sell fireworks, but if a customer takes those fireworks across the street into Aurora, they’re breaking the law.

“It’s always been kind of frustrating and difficult,” Robinson said.

Tim Joyce, assistant city attorney for Aurora, said the city’s ban covers everything from sparklers to smoke bombs to exploding firecrackers. Violations carry a minimum fine of $250.

That goes beyond the typical state ban, which only covers fireworks that explode or shoot into the air. This year, the state ban covers everything, similar to Aurora’s.

Because of Aurora’s long-standing fireworks ban, city officials say they don’t expect much added confusion this year stemming from the governor’s order.

Still, Aurora fire Capt. Al Robnett said police officers and firefighters will be cracking down on fireworks in the coming weeks.

One police car in each of the three police districts will have a police officers and a firefighter looking specifically for fireworks violators, Robnett said.

Last year, Aurora cited 103 people for fireworks violations, up from just 65 the year before.

This year, with the state ban in place, Sheriff Robinson has had his deputies hang big red signs on the eight fireworks stands in the county warning customers that while they can buy fireworks, they can’t use them while the ban is in place.

Even with a ban and a likely crackdown on fireworks, Deden said customers probably won’t scale back when it comes to lighting them off.

The ban on exploding and flying fireworks, for example, is regularly flouted, with many neighborhood skies full of artillery shells and bottle rockets every year.

“Those are illegal all the time and they still do it,” he said.

Annual bans like Aurora’s and this year’s state bans are frustrating for customers, Deden said, because even when there is a drought throughout much of the state, suburban yards hardly show signs of it. With sprinkler systems kicking on a few days a week, customers feel the green grass is a perfectly safe place for fireworks.

“They just want to celebrate Fourth of July,” he said.

Deden said he always warns against bringing fireworks to the mountains or somewhere where the risk of wildland fire is high. If customers opt to light fireworks at home, he said they should make sure they have a hose handy and are careful.

In the end, Deden said customers either know the ban isn’t permanent and plan to save the fireworks for a later date, or they just aren’t worried about the ban.

“I haven’t seen any confusion,” he said. “People know about the ban, but they don’t really care.”