City fireworks light up the sky on the Fourth of July. (Photo by J Swygart)
Although fireworks were banned in Decatur by city officials over a week ago, there has been some question whether the city had the authority to do so. It now appears that most doubt is gone following the passage of an emergency proclamation at Tuesday night's city council meeting.
Probably two-thirds of Indiana counties have instituted burn bans during this summer of drought, and many communities have banned the use of fireworks.
State law allows the use of fireworks on private property from June 29 to July 9, even in areas under open burning bans.
Some legal experts think the only way to legally ban the use of fireworks is under an emergency order.
State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson told The Associated Press that the authority of local officials to ban fireworks under emergency declarations is uncertain and hasn’t been challenged in court.
Still, more cities and counties are using the emergency route, which is what Decatur City Council did on Tuesday.
"There is a lot of confusion statewide on this," Decatur City Attorney Tim Baker said. He said he has done considerable research on the subject and, in his opinion, the city can legally ban fireworks via the emergency route. So on a 5-0 vote, an emergency proclamation was adopted.
"We don't do this lightly, and we're not trying to infringe on anyone's rights. But we wish to protect the citizens of Decatur," Baker noted prior to passage.
"We're doing this for the safety of our community," Mayor John Schultz said.
The proclamation was issued just one day prior to the Decatur's annual Fourth of July fireworks show. "We can control the area for our community fireworks, but we can't control every neighborhood," the mayor said. He added that the fire department would wet down the fireworks area several times before Wednesday night and would put a retardant foam on the large pile of debris at the compost site.
Baker stressed the legal jeopardy someone could be placed under should they shoot off fireworks that could damage someone else's property. They could be charged with criminal negligence, he said, adding: "People should understand that this can be very serious."