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10:12 AM Tue, Sept. 18th

Few local vendors selling fireworks for New Year's Eve

A new state law that allows the sale of permissible consumer fireworks has not sparked a gold rush of vendors who are selling the devices in the tri-city area.

However, fire officials, who opposed the new law, continue to express concerns that people will be injured and could trigger fires even during the winter. They acknowledged people are less likely to use fireworks on New Year's Eve than on the Fourth of July because the weather is colder.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Charlie Cook, assistant chief and fire marshal of the 165-square-mile Central Yavapai Fire District, said he knew of only two vendors - both in Prescott. However, he acknowledged the district is not aware of other potential vendors because Yavapai County and the Town of Dewey-Humboldt do not require business licenses. He added he met with a merchant of a market in Prescott who sold fireworks that he bought at a big-box store.

The towns of Prescott Valley and Chino Valley require business licenses, and the City of Prescott issues licenses to businesses that generate sales tax revenues. The Prescott City Council and Prescott Valley Town Council enacted ordinances banning the use of consumer fireworks within their jurisdictions in response to Gov. Jan Brewer signing a bill May 10 to allow the sale of fireworks.

The bill, HB 2246, enables cities and towns to enact restrictions, but limits the authority of county governments to impose restrictions to fire seasons.

In Prescott, Brohner Paper and Party Supply and Chris Billings obtained permits from the Prescott Fire Department. Billings, who operates a tent on Montezuma Street south of Carleton Street, displays a sales tax license from the city.

Fred Brohner, owner of the business on 1438 W. Gurley St., said he bought a line of fireworks that he began displaying Dec. 21.

Fireworks dominate the front of his store, where Brohner sells a mix that includes "color snakes" for 35 cents, "small fountains" for $1.50, 18-pack sparklers for $3.50 and bigger assortment boxes ranging from $25 to $95.

"I need an edge - I need to get diversified and into other things that bring people in," he said.

Brohner said he is acting responsibly by making sure no one under the age of 16 is buying fireworks, explaining rules for using fireworks and getting buyers to sign a form to make sure they know how to use them safely. He plans to sell fireworks year-round.

He said the controversy over fireworks sales is like smoking or driving a car, adding parents need to show responsibility.

Billings, who set up his tent Monday and plans to take it down Friday, commented, "I really don't have too much of an opinion on the state law." The Chino Valley resident said he pursued sales opportunities online because his business is slow this winter as a bathtub and countertop refinisher.

Potential customers Mark Overhage and Willie Contreras of Phoenix visited the tent Tuesday morning. Overhage said he checked to see whether Billings charged less than vendors in the Phoenix area.

"The last thing I want to do is get in trouble," said Overhage, a police volunteer. "I want to make sure that I don't get cited for letting off an illegal firework."

Overhage and Contreras met with Billings, who showed them a fact sheet on fireworks the state allows and bans. He also displays eight signs advising buyers that consumer fireworks are not allowed within the city limits.

"I realize here we are relying on the customers to use common sense and obey the laws," Billings said.

Safety hazards can occur if users alter and try to enhance fireworks, Eric Kriwer of the Prescott Fire Department said. Consumers might try to combine fireworks or mix them with explosive devices to enhance their effects.

"You can get anything from burn injuries (and) lacerations (to) eye injuries," Kriwer said.

The misuse of fireworks can trigger a 5- to 10-acre blaze of grasslands in the Prescott Valley area even during the winter, Cook said.

Kriwer also expressed concerns about teenagers being unaware of the city ordinance.

Violators face citations as high as $2,500 and up to six months in jail.

Courier reporter Jason Soifer contributed to this story.