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As previously banned pyrotechnics prove big sellers, local vendors urge caution

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | July 2, 2021 7:00 AM

Following a decades-long ban, bottle rockets, Roman candles and sky rockets are back on shelves in Montana. Given warnings that the newly legalized pyrotechnics could increase the already high risk of fires, local vendors have taken a cautious approach to marketing the fireworks.

Rick Nielson, who owns R & K Fireworks in Libby, said he tells every customer that purchases one of the newly approved rockets or candles to follow safety guidelines.

“It’s a trial run for the state,” he said. “If you abuse it, every fire marshal will be knocking on the governor’s door. So just be as responsible as you can.”

Kyle Hannah, a fireworks vendor in Libby, said the deregulated pyrotechnics have proven popular. Like Nelson, he has urged users to take the proper precautions when launching them, especially given the hot and dry conditions.

“Anything that you can point and shoot and have a starting issue is scary stuff right now,” he said.

Officials say Roman candles and bottle and sky rockets present a greater risk of igniting fires and causing injuries compared to other types of fireworks since users can fire them horizontally.

Bruce Hennequin, Central Valley fire marshal, said that users tend to aim bottle rockets and Roman candles at other people and set them off too close to structures. Inexperienced users often fail to take into account the trajectory and distance rockets are capable of traveling.

“One simply needs a YouTube search to find many, many examples of this fact,” he said when speaking before the state Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

Supporters of the law have noted that fireworks enthusiasts could still find bottle rockets, Roman candles and sky rockets for sale on reservations in Montana and in neighboring states.

Local vendors pointed out that any type of fireworks used improperly could cause injuries or ignite fires.

“If you get a big old mortar shell going off and you’re being kind of a jackwagon, you’re going to do something silly,” said Kelly O'Brien, who runs the Pyromania Fireworks stand in Libby.

Given the risk of wildfires, local officials have asked residents to take extra care when using any kind of fireworks this year.

Libby Mayor Brent Teske reminded residents last month that — with the exception of New Year’s Eve — it is illegal to set off fireworks within city limits. It is also illegal to set off fireworks on state or federal land. While rules are less restrictive in the county, Teske still urged locals to act responsibly.

“We’re at a heightened level of fire awareness so please be cautious no matter where you use fireworks,” he said during a June 21 city council meeting.

Libby Police Chief Scott Kesel echoed the warning a few days later pointing to hot and dry weather conditions.

Earlier this week, the National Weather Service placed Libby and nearby areas under an excessive heat warning until July 1. Troy Mayor Dallas Carr said that city saw highs of 111 earlier this week.

When setting off fireworks, users should have a bucket or fire hose handy and be cognizant of their surroundings. Users should always follow the instructions on the fireworks packaging.