Stapley Drive and McKellips Road

This house near Stapley Drive and McKellips Road in Mesa was destroyed in a New Year’s Eve fire triggered by spent fireworks debris deposited in a trash can next to the home.  There were no injuries, though a family pet died.

Mesa City Council members are just as fed up with fireworks as many residents who complained over the New Year’s Day weekend about explosions all night long, lousy air quality with smoke lingering over neighbors. 

Even someone’s house burned down.

But even though the state law is consistently violated, enforcing it is a difficult problem unless cops catch someone setting off aerial fireworks, City Manager Chris Brady said.

“The only way they can enforce it is when they actually see someone lighting the fireworks,’’ Brady said. “I think people standing around in the street is not enough to enforce it.’’

Kevin Bush, a deputy Mesa fire chief and fire marshal, said fireworks sales are regulated at supermarkets and fireworks stands to ensure that only legal ones are sold.

“The biggest issue for all of us is that there really is nothing to control the influx of illegal fireworks coming into our state and our city of Mesa,’’ Bush said.

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Ward said that firefighters have referred cases where they suspected illegal fireworks were being trafficked to police and police have taken action.

Mesa Vice Mayor Jen Duff proposed regulating it through changes to the Mesa noise ordinance and supported another possible solution advocated by Councilman Francisco Heredia, who proposed increasing the fines for violations. The fines start at $75.

However, City Attorney Jim Smith said the state law effectively blocks cities from regulating fireworks with any additional requirements, although he said he was willing to look into modifying the city’s noise ordinance to attack the problem.

But Mayor John Giles and council members Dave Luna and Mark Freeman, all said the best approach is banding with other cities and working through the Arizona League of Cities and Towns for changes to the state law.

“I hate to pass the buck, but there’s not a lot we can do,’’ Giles said, suggesting that residents disturbed by the fireworks direct their ire toward state legislators and not toward council members.

“Maybe we need to take the battle to the League of Cities and Towns,’’ which could lobby for changes to the law, he said. “All of us lie in bed and hear these aerial explosions. The problem is obvious and the solution is not.’’

Council members Duff, Freeman, Luna, Julie Spilsbury and Kevin Thompson all expressed their frustrations with the present law, but didn’t appear to reach an obvious consensus on how to deal with it.

“Everyone knows it’s a free-for-all,’’ Spilsbury said, with little or no likelihood of getting caught for firing off aerial and explosive fireworks that violate state law.

“You can’t hardly see. It looks like we are covered in fog. It’s filled with smoke,’’ Spilsbury said.

“I know a lot of people who spend thousands of dollars and lots of hours doing this and they know nothing is going to happen to them,’’ she said, with the bombardment typically lasting from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on New Year’s Eve and on July 4.

Duff, Luna and Brady mentioned that the time periods where Arizona residents are allowed to buy certain fireworks, such as sparklers, coincides with holidays where police are stretched thin because they are looking to crackdown on driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“The air quality is horrible. We know this is the explosive devices,’’ Duff said. “I don’t see a benefit. I think it’s an enforcement problem, a waste of resources for the Mesa Police Department.’’

Luna said he consistently receives complaints from neighbors who live near Brown Mountain, at Brown and Ellsworth roads, who are irritated by people setting off explosives from the mountaintop.

“It’s really a burden on our public safety personnel. It’s really frustrating that we can’t do much about it,’’ Luna said. “This is the sort of thing that handcuffs a city.’’

He said he would welcome the legislature modifying the law to allow cities, such as Mesa, to impose additional regulations on fireworks.

Freeman said his focus is on public safety, after a fire caused by fireworks raced through a house near Stapley Drive and McKellips Road on New Year’s Eve.

He proposed forming a task force to perform undercover investigations of illegal sales, but later said he does not want to put an undue burden on police and few offenders would probably be caught.

“I did have a house fire in my area. It was unnecessary and totally gutted. It was due to fireworks,’’ he said.

A retired firefighter, Freeman said the state should allow cities, which know their communities best, to regulate fireworks. He said the city should send a letter to legislator asking for their help in changing the law.

“I’m concerned about the safety component,’’ Freeman said, adding that there have probably been more injuries than are publicly known. “My thing is to protect the safety of our community.’’

Thompson said he also is frustrated by the disturbances caused by fireworks, but he doesn’t want to distract police officers from more important duties.

“I don’t want to put more onus on our staff to come up with solutions when we just can’t enforce it,’’ Thompson said.

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