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Aerial fireworks fill First Coast skies on July 4 despite ban

Duval bans them, but three other counties allow purchase with "agricultural" waiver

Posted: July 3, 2014 - 5:26pm  |  Updated: July 4, 2014 - 10:42am
 Fireworks sales in the Jacksonville, FL area have different rules depending on the county. Mortar shells (pictured) that shoot into the air, can be purchased in St. Johns but not in Duval or Nassau.
Bob.Mack@jacksonville.com
Fireworks sales in the Jacksonville, FL area have different rules depending on the county. Mortar shells (pictured) that shoot into the air, can be purchased in St. Johns but not in Duval or Nassau.
Fireworks that are fired into  the air are not sold in Duval or Nassau counties, but are available in Clay, Baker and St. Johns if an agricultural waiver is signed.    Bob.Mack  @jacksonville.com  Bob.Mack@jacksonville.com
Bob.Mack@jacksonville.com
Fireworks that are fired into the air are not sold in Duval or Nassau counties, but are available in Clay, Baker and St. Johns if an agricultural waiver is signed. Bob.Mack @jacksonville.com

First Coast area business news

It’s Independence Day’s wink-and-a-nod law across the First Coast.

Fireworks that go boom or fly through the air are illegal in Florida.

But drive around Duval County long enough these days and you’ll hear the unmistakable crack and pop of fireworks.

SEE ALSO: Plenty of places to see fireworks Friday night in the Jacksonville area

Under Florida law, it’s illegal to use fireworks anywhere unless they’re being used for agricultural purposes, such as scaring away birds or snakes. Sparklers or fireworks that do not explode or fly are legal.

AND: 4th of July events across the First Coast

In several counties, such as St. Johns, Baker and Clay counties, people can buy exploding flying fireworks only after signing a waiver saying they’re needed for agricultural use. Duval County does not allow such a waiver.

SLIDESHOW: 13 ridiculously-named fireworks

That means — thanks to the agricultural loophole — bottle rockets, mortars and fire crackers are just a quick drive over the county line for Jacksonville residents.

Even many First Coast residents who forgo lighting fuses don’t seem to mind.

“I have never had anyone complain to me as a council person about fireworks,” said Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg. “People just expect it, and they live with it for the Fourth and sometimes days before.”

Councilman Bill Gulliford, a former Atlantic Beach mayor, said the spectacle of scores of people shooting off fireworks along the beach is as popular a draw as the professional show put on downtown.

“The entire beach just lights up,” he said. “The complaints over the years were very muted or limited.”

MIXED MESSAGE

Lawmakers have taken note that the ban coupled with the waiver loophole sends a mixed message to Floridians.

“It’s kind of arcane,” said State Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, of the waiver law.

State House and Senate bills seeking to repeal the ban, placing fireworks regulations in the hands of local communities, died in committees this year.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who supported repealing the ban, told the Times-Union last year that people in his Panhandle district can travel easily to Alabama to buy fireworks.

“Let’s keep that money in the state of Florida,” he said.

That’s not as much a problem in the Jacksonville area because fireworks are also illegal in Georgia. Ray, a former city councilman from Arlington, said he supports keeping the issue in the hands of locals.

“It really does deserve to be a local issue,” he said. “Let the local people figure out what they want to do with it.”

THE BAN

Still, fire and police officials urge residents to follow the law and emphasize the danger associated with fireworks.

“Signing a waiver will not clear a consumer of responsibility if caught illegally using fireworks,” the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal said in a news release this week about the agricultural waiver.

Enforcing the ban falls to local police departments.

Sgt. Thomas Crumley, Jacksonville Beach police spokesman, said fireworks are simply one aspect of many that officers have to handle as the beach receives an influx of tourists over the long weekend.

“The officers are very busy, and it’s something if they see it, they address it, or if there’s a call for service,” he said. “People need to be cognizant that they have neighbors. It can affect everyone.”

Fire departments across Florida responded to 120 fireworks-related incidents last year, according to the state fire marshal.

While there are more than 2,000 types of legal sparklers in Florida — spelled out in a 66-page list released each year by the fire marshal — even those carry risks.

It’s especially important to keep children away from fireworks, said Vandana Bhide, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician.

Sparklers, which can reach temperatures near 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, can cause third-degree burns in some cases, she said.

“Most of the injuries come in young people, the 20-to-30 age group, but the ones you worry about and are avoidable are the young children,” Bhide said. “Most people think sparklers are pretty benign and don’t cause a lot of injuries, but the problem is they’re super hot.”

 

Times-Union reporter Meredith Rutland contributed to this report.

Nate Monroe: (904) 359-4289

ONLINE

To see the list of the more than 2,000 legal fireworks in Florida, visit bit.ly/FLAfireworkslist

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Comments (2)

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saltmarsh cracker
3824
Points
saltmarsh cracker 07/04/14 - 10:47 am
0
0
If the ban were enforced

If the ban were enforced fireworks would be legalized.

By keeping fireworks illegal, government presumably limits its legal liability.

tobot241
8397
Points
tobot241 07/03/14 - 07:30 pm
0
0
Premium Member
Why does the FTU and the

Why does the FTU and the local news programs rant about this every year?
Nobody cares! People want fireworks on the 4th. Why make people lie on some stupid form? Legalize them now.

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