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Legal fireworks permit sales start today

Caution urged in light of recent brush fires; aerials are still illegal

Illegal aerial fireworks explode over Kahului on the Fourth of July. Fire officials are concerned about fireworks, legal and illegal, and the drier conditions as New Year’s approaches. The Maui News / LEE IMADA photo

December is supposed to be Hawaii’s rainy season, when cooling showers turn the brush green and lessen the risk of fires.

But Saturday’s 600-acre brush fire in Paia was a reminder that it’s still as hot, dry and risky as ever with the New Year’s fireworks season approaching.

“It just shows that even though it’s the month of December, the brush is still super vulnerable to fire,” Fire Services Chief Rylan Yatsushiro said Monday.

As firecracker permit sales start today in Maui County, the Police and Fire Departments are reminding residents to be extra cautious in their celebrations following a harrowing year of brush fires.

“We really do want to urge everybody to be very careful, especially near brush areas, because as was evident just this past weekend, the hazards are still there,” Yatsushiro said. “The brush areas are still vulnerable.

“A couple general rules: Always have a water hose or way to extinguish any type of fire handy, and we want everybody to, if they’re going to be using lawful fireworks, to keep it far away from any dry brush.”

Last holiday season, live and smoldering fireworks caused four of the 12 fire incidents that the Maui Fire Department responded to on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Of the 12 calls, eight were confined to rubbish bins and quickly extinguished. Three were small brush fires, and another was a vehicle fire.

While four incidents may seem insignificant, it takes only one spark to cause major damage. Yatsushiro pointed to an incident on July 4, 2018 when a fast-moving brush fire burned down two homes and damaged four in a Kihei neighborhood. The cause was “believed to be accidental,” caused by children playing with fireworks.

That fire was in the dry summer, but in December 2019 it’s still hot and windy — Kahului alone tied or broke five heat records from Tuesday through Sunday, and the National Weather Service reported winds of 23 mph on Saturday when the Paia fire broke out.

Growing concern over illegal aerial fireworks prompted a town hall meeting in April — perhaps the first — that included Maui’s police and fire chiefs, state harbors and airport officials, and the county prosecutor. The biggest challenges, they said, was gathering evidence and getting authority to search cargo and vessels.

Sometimes, police do score a win — in October, they announced the seizure of 107 pounds of aerial fireworks, 95 mortar shells and 40,610 fireworks that had been intercepted en route from the Mainland.

“We haven’t had a seizure like this in many years,” Assistant Police Chief John Jakubczak said at the time.

And this holiday season, police will have a new tool in their enforcement belt — a law signed by Gov. David Ige on July 5 that would penalize residents if illegal aerial fireworks are set off from their property. Act 248 establishes criminal liability for “a homeowner, renter or person responsible for real property who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly allows someone to possess, set off, ignite or otherwise cause to explode any aerial device.”

Criminal penalties can constitute a Class C felony, a misdemeanor or a fine of $500 to $2,000. When making arrests, the new law allows officers to determine probable cause through witness statements, photographs, video or other recordings that can be authenticated by one or more witnesses, with the exception of drone shots.

On Monday, the county Department of Fire and Public Safety reminded the public to keep fireworks away from young children, including sparklers, which burn at 2,000 degrees. Older children should use fireworks only with adult supervision. All fireworks users should read and follow all warnings and instructions listed by the manufacturer and make sure to have a clear, flat area to use the fireworks, away from structures, dry grass or brush or other readily ignitable materials. A water hose or bucket of water should always be available.

While firecracker permits are available starting today, fireworks sales will start Dec. 26, according to Fire Prevention Bureau Chief Paul Haake.

A fireworks permit is not required for consumer fireworks such as sparklers, snakes and cylindrical or cone fountains, which emit effects not higher than 12 feet off the ground. However, a fireworks permit is required for the use of firecrackers.

Each permit costs $25, payable by check or money order to the County of Maui. Cash will be accepted at the Fire Prevention Bureau in Waikapu and Pine Isle Market on Lanai only. Each permit allows a purchase of up to 5,000 firecrackers. There is no limit to the number of permits issued to each person. Applicants must be 18 years or older and show proof of age at the time of permit processing.

Permits will be available at 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Dec. 31 at the following locations:

• Central Maui: Fire Prevention Bureau, 313 Manea Place, Waikapu Consolidated Baseyard.

• West Maui: County Parks and Recreation Permit Office, Lahaina Civic Center, 1840 Honoapiilani Highway.

• Molokai: County Parks and Recreation Permit Office, Mitchell Pauole Community Center, 90 Ainoa St.

County offices are closed on Christmas.

Limited fireworks permits will be available at the following locations:

• Kahului: Phantom Fireworks, front parking lot of Queen Ka`ahumanu Center; Pacific Starr Fireworks, Akaku Center, 333 Dairy Road, Unit 108; King’s Cathedral, 777 Maui Veterans Highway.

• Kihei: Pacific Starr Fireworks, Piilani Shopping Village, 225 Piikea Ave.

• Lanai: Pine Isle Market.

Permit-required firecrackers will be sold at the following locations:

• All Maui locations of CVS Longs Drugs, except Lahaina; and Foodland stores at the Queen Ka`ahumanu Center, Pukalani, Wailuku and Lahaina.

• Wailuku: Sack N Save.

• Kahului: Phantom Fireworks, Pacific Starr Fireworks, King’s Cathedral.

• Kihei: Pacific Starr Fireworks.

• Molokai: Misaki’s Grocery, Take’s Variety Store.

• Lanai: Pine Isle Market.

Fireworks can be legally set off only from 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve to 1 a.m. New Year’s Day, the Maui Fire Department said. Setting off fireworks outside designated times is punishable by law; violations are subject to fines up to $2,000.

Aerial fireworks are illegal and extremely dangerous, the Fire Department added. The import, transfer, sale or use of aerial fireworks without a permit is a Class C Felony.

In general, it is unlawful to:

• Remove or extract pyrotechnic contents.

• Throw any ignited fireworks from a moving vehicle.

• Set off fireworks within 1,000 feet of health care facilities and facilities for animals.

• Set off fireworks by schools.

• Set off fireworks on public roads, in county parks, county facilities, cane fields or places of worship.

• Set off, ignite, discharge or otherwise cause to explode any fireworks within 500 feet from any hotel without a permit.

• Offer for sale, sell or give any fireworks to minors, and for any minors to possess, purchase, set off, ignite or otherwise cause to explode any fireworks, except that the parents or guardians may allow the minor to use fireworks while under the immediate supervision and control of an adult.

Those who’d rather watch a fireworks show can head to the Grand Wailea on Maui or the Four Seasons Resort on Lanai, both of which start at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31, the Fire Department said.

For more information on fireworks permits, contact the Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Bureau at 876-4690 or refer to Hawaii Revised Statutes 132D.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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