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Pause 4th of July fireworks

A helicopter pilot who fought July 11th’s massive brush fire on Maui later described it as “bear claws” digging across the island’s parched midsection.

Every time a stand of kiawe trees or patch of haole koa bushes erupted into flames, they shot embers high into the air. Powerful, shifting winds sailed those red-hot embers downwind onto new patches of tinder-dry fuel. Jumping wide highways and sometimes moving hundreds of yards in seconds, the fire clawed its way from Waikapu to Kihei, causing evacuations and road closures throughout the day.

Only the valiant efforts of Maui firefighters, police, pilots, Department of Land and Natural Resources personnel and construction crews manning water trucks and bulldozers kept the blaze from devastating north Kihei neighborhoods. Facilities at the Maui Humane Society, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Sanctuary, Anthony Kahoohanohano Hawaii Army National Guard Armory and Maui Electric Co.’s Maal-aea Generating Plant also survived close calls.

The 10,000-acre brush fire could have been catastrophic. It was just the first of several runaway blazes that blackened long swaths across former sugar cane fields. Record-setting temperatures had turned those fields to kindling. A total of about 25,000 acres burned on Maui in the second half of 2019. Firefighting efforts cost the county more than $629,000 in added expenses.

On July 4, 2018, another high-wind day, kids reportedly playing with legal fireworks started a brush fire in Kihei that destroyed two homes and damaged four others. The fire caused more than $1 million in damage and displaced multiple families. Again, if not for the quick work of first responders, it could have so much worse.

Looking ahead to this summer, considering the economic and personal toll COVID-19 is taking on the state and its people, it is time for the state Legislature, when it returns to session, to consider enacting a moratorium on Fourth of July fireworks this year. Cash-strapped families do not need the temptation to spend scarce funds on fireworks. This is shaping up to be another hot and dry year. The state and counties have far more important needs to allocate funds for than fighting carelessly set brush fires.

To those who would argue fireworks are a cultural right or somehow part of the American Way, wouldn’t it be more patriotic to do what is right by your family and community during such an unprecedented crisis?

This July Fourth there should be no fireworks of any kind sold on Maui. The moratorium should be announced soon so merchants have notice in time to forgo ordering fireworks or to cancel orders already made. If the Legislature is unable to act due to its shutdown from the coronavirus, businesses should consider taking a year off on their own.

There would be one more positive side to a moratorium. If reckless individuals still want to buy and set off illegal fireworks, including aerials, and thus risk liability for any damage they cause, this will make them easier to find and prosecute.

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