June 26, 2013

Oakland reminds residents of fireworks ordinance pre-Fourth of July

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

OAKLAND — With the Fourth of July approaching, the Town Council is trying to make sure residents understand a new local law that sets strict standards for legal fireworks use in town limits.

Under Oakland’s recently passed fireworks ordinance, no fireworks are allowed within one mile of Memorial Hall. Fireworks are allowed, under certain restrictions, on the following dates and times:

January 1: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

June 28 to July 3: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

July 4:  9 a.m. - 12:30 a.m., July 5

July 5 - July 11: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Dec.  31: 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Jan 1

People can apply, at no charge, for a special fireworks permit in the town office to set off fireworks on weekends before 5 p.m.

During a council meeting Wednesday night, councilman Don Borman said most residents are not aware of the ordinance, which was adopted in May.

Borman said it is likely that many people will set off fireworks without realizing they are breaking the law during this year’s Fourth of July celebrations.

Shortly after the ordinance went into effect, an Oakland-based event by Colby College included a “massive display of fireworks” that violated the town’s new law.

“You can’t really blame them, because three days ago, there was no ordinance,” he said.

The ordinance bans fireworks within a one-mile radius of Memorial Hall; allows them in other parts of the town during certain hours on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and from June 28 to July 11; and allows for residents to apply for special permits on weekend days throughout the year.

The issue was on the council’s agenda because two residents had complained the law would restrict their planned fireworks use. One of the residents said she had bought $1,000 worth of fireworks only to learn that she lived within a mile of Memorial Hall, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said.
Neither of the residents attended the meeting.

The state Legislature lifted the ban on fireworks in Maine, effective Jan. 1, 2012. Municipalities can set their own rules, an option that 56 communities have taken advantage of, according to a March report from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The report also found that there were 19 fireworks-related injuries in the state in 2012, and 49 fireworks-related fires reported by fire officials, a number that is incomplete because of a reporting lag, officials said. The report’s authors said fireworks-related fires and injuries happen every year in Maine, and that it is too early to draw conclusions about the effect of the law.

In Oakland, special permit applications for weekend use are free, but they must be filled out during town office hours, Nielsen said.

Ordinance violators are subject to a written warning for the first offense, a fine of $200 for a second offense, and a fine of $400 for additional offenses.

Individuals may ignite fireworks only on their own property, and only with a way to put out small fires, such as a garden hose or fire extinguisher.

In addition to not being allowed within one mile of Memorial Hall, fireworks are not allowed within 50 feet of an adjacent property. They are not allowed on any high fire danger days.

There are also other restrictions outlined in the ordinance, which is available on the town website, www.oaklandmaine.us.

Borman said he saw a possible loophole in the ordinance language that could be interpreted to allow residents to apply for use that would extend until 10 p.m. The intent of the ordinance is to not allow any fireworks after 9 p.m.

Before drafting the ordinance, the town conducted a survey that showed that, while a minority of people want a ban or no restrictions on use, the majority of residents wanted some form of restrictions.

Other ordinances

According to a March report on fireworks by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, 56 Maine communities in 2012 passed fireworks ordinances limiting or banning fireworks use or sales. Municipalities are required to submit ordinances to the fire marshal within 60 days of passage.

In Augusta, the use, sale and offering for sale of consumer fireworks is prohibited.

In Fairfield, fireworks are banned except for a five-day period from July 2 to July 6.

Gardiner is listed in the state report as having a 180-day moratorium, but the town council voted in July to ban use.

Waterville is not listed with the fire marshal, but its council voted to ban selling or using consumer fireworks last June.

In Winslow, in order to sell consumer fireworks a person must get a permit from the town and follow town rules pertaining to storage and sprinkler systems.

In Winthrop, the town council voted that fireworks can be used, but not sold, on most days until 9 p.m.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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