Commissioners hear fireworks complaints

By Keren Henderson Published:

People are fired up about where and when their neighbors chose to set off fireworks, saying it’s been a month-long barrage of big blasts hitting too close to home at all hours of the night.

“I went weeks without sleep,” says Heather Kash, who took her complaint to the City Commission during Monday’s work session.

“People didn’t just set off fireworks on the Fourth of July; they’ve been setting them off since the stands opened.”

Since Kentucky legalized firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles this year, more stands than usual opened around Frankfort, and stand owners said more than half of their sales were for the newly legalized products.

Kash, a state employee who lives on Alma Drive, says her neighborhood has been something of a war zone with fireworks going off until as late as 2:30 a.m. In the past month, she has found rockets in her front and back yards, near her pickup and on her roof. She also found burn marks in her backyard.

“Neighbors are setting them off with very little concern for their neighbors’ well-being,” she says.

Commissioners told Kash they empathize with her and everyone else who has contacted them, though they have yet to come up with another way to regulate the use of fireworks – something many Kentucky communities are now grappling with, Commissioner Sellus Wilder said.

“There’s not support on the commission for banning the sale of fireworks outright,” said Wilder, who has fielded complaints from several citizens. “Somehow limiting the fireworks is probably a better solution. Nobody wants to inhibit Independence Day festivities … We just need to make sure it’s celebrated safely.”

The problem, commissioners and police say, is that the newly legalized fireworks are being used in illegal ways.

Kentucky law states that fireworks should not be ignited within 200 feet of any structure, vehicle or any other person, and users must be at least 18 years old.

In late June and early July, city police got 107 complaints, and the sheriff’s department received 62. From those complaints, however, no citations were issued, and no violators were caught.

Frankfort Police Chief Walter Wilhoite told commissioners Monday it’s difficult to cite violators because Kentucky law states the responding officer must catch them in the act.

Kash, as well as commenters on state-journal.com, say that with all the complaints, they’re surprised officers never saw anyone break the law.

“I can affirm that for many nights on my street, the neighbors sat on their front porch, lighting rocket after rocket off, virtually non-stop for hours on end,” Kash wrote in a letter to commissioners Tuesday. 

“How with hundreds of complaints could officers not catch anyone?” she asked.

Commissioner Michael Turner says while he too is surprised not a single citation was issued, he can see how the laws are difficult for police to enforce. He suggests limiting the amount of time vendors can sell fireworks, adding that one vendor has already requested permission to sell fireworks year-round.

“Perhaps we could limit it to just one week before and one week after (the Fourth of July),” he told The State Journal. “If we limit it to a degree, it may limit the amount of time people fire these things.”

Commissioners agree they don’t want to penalize those who are using fireworks legally.

“I’ve had a number of calls about people being upset – more about people shooting them off at 1 a.m. in the morning,” Turner said. “On the other hand, it’s part of the fun of the Fourth of July. It’s the fireworks experience.”

Kash said she’s worried nothing will be done, and come New Year’s or next Fourth of July, she’ll have to go another month without sleep worrying that something will catch on fire or be damaged.

Commissioners, backed by police and fire chiefs, said they agree something needs to be done, but they’re going to take their time to think through the issue, since fireworks won’t be sold in Frankfort again until December.

“This is an issue that is affecting everybody,” Turner said. “You can ask any commissioner, and we’ve all heard it late at night – we understand there is an issue there. We are committed to doing something about it.”

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