Residents of some East Valley communities can at last legally ring in the new year with the flash and crackle of fireworks - but officials in Mesa, Tempe and Chandler are reminding their residents fireworks are illegal.
Despite the bans, safety officials figure people will ignore the rules or that they aren't familiar with the patchwork of local fireworks laws.
And who could blame the public for not knowing?
Fireworks are on display at the entrance of grocery stores, big-box retailers and at massive tents at major intersections everywhere. Many retailers haven't bothered to let buyers know it's illegal to use what they're selling.
Public safety officials say they don't expect local laws to deter people.
"I'm hoping people are smart enough to know that if they do use them illegally, they follow the directions on the box at least," said Mike Reichling, a Tempe fire investigator. "We're advising against it - it is against the law - but if people do use them, we hope they do use some common sense."
Mesa residents may be surprised that fireworks are illegal right now, despite the City Council voting this month to allow their use leading up to New Year's Day and Independence Day. The council wrestled with the issue so long that the new ordinance couldn't take effect until February.
A state law that took effect Dec. 1 legalized consumer fireworks such as sparklers, cone fountains and smoke bombs, but anything that shoots into the air remains illegal in Arizona. The law lets cities ban or restrict fireworks use but they cannot restrict sales.
Chandler is relying on its existing rules to ban fireworks.
Rules adopted this year allow Gilbert restricts to use fireworks Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, and July 3-5.
Mesa will act in early January to lift its ban twice a year, on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. However, public safety officials stress the total ban is still in place for this New Year's holiday.
Fireworks supporters say it's pointless to ban them at the two times of year they're most popular, as the statewide prohibition had long been ignored. Tempe's City Council looked at the issue differently.
"We figured if it was bad enough to ban certain times of the year, then it's bad enough to ban the entire year," Reichling said.
Firefighters expect injuries and property damage to rise now that fireworks are so easy to buy, and are now legal in some places. Fire departments across the state have created a new form to track injuries and damage, hoping to document what they predict will be a growing problem.
Tempe requires retailers to post signs saying fireworks are illegal in the city and Mesa's ordinance will require signs with safety information. Mesa councilman Scott Somers doubts those signs will ever be in place because cities can't regulate sales.
"What's the punishment since there's no licensing for this?" Somers said. "I think it's a joke."
Somers said fireworks supporters underestimate the damage of items as small as sparklers, which have triggered house fires. He cited an e-mail he got this week from a Mesa resident who submitted photos showing her evaporative cooler caught fire after an illegal bottle rocket struck it. A neighbor spotted teenagers using the fireworks and the blaze was stopped before spreading, but Somers said he fears what would happen if that kind of mishap took place in triple-digit heat. Somers, a firefighter who opposed legalization, said it's only a matter of time before fireworks trigger a massive blaze in the wilderness.
"Eighty percent of our presidential emergency declarations are for fire, so we are a fire prone state," Somers said. "And we've just turned fire into a toy."
(Note: The original story has been corrected to indicate that Chandler has also banned the use of fireworks)
ARIZONA FIREWORKS LAW
Toy smoke devices
Wire sparklers or dipped sticks
Multiple tube fireworks devices and pyrotechnic articles
Any fireworks that rise into the air or detonate in the air, including bottle rockets, sky rockets, missile-type rockets, helicopters, torpedoes, roman candles and jumping jacks.