Fireworks might be cause of Shelby Township house fire

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published June 29, 2016


At approximately 5 a.m. Tuesday, June 28, fire crews were called to the scene of an inferno that consumed the majority of a deck, home and garage on Mallard Court, near 21 Mile and Hayes roads.

Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said the blaze originated in a gazebo over a hot tub next to the deck, which spread to the wooden deck and into the house. Flames traveled up the wall, into the roof and burned away half of the house between the kitchen and the garage.

“The only thing we know for sure is fireworks were being set off late the night before a street over, which would have been directly upwind from where this was,” Swinkowski said. “The only two things investigators tracked down is if it was related to negligent use of fireworks or some sort of electrical problem related to the hot tub or outdoor electrical.”

He said the homeowners had not done any new construction or electrical work recently, so he was very suspicious of the cause being fireworks. He said investigators ruled out other common causes, such as smoking or a fire pit.

The two occupants of the house were able to exit safely, and no one was injured in the fire.

“The husband works at home and had not gone to bed yet. He heard some glass cracking and came over to the great room and saw the whole attached deck (consumed in) a big orange cloud of fire,” Swinkowski said. “His wife was home (sleeping), and they were able to get out of the house and call 911.”

By the time fire crews arrived a few minutes later, Swinkowski said, a great deal of damage had already been done. With fire, smoke and water damage, the house was a total loss.

The couple did not own any pets, he said.

“Unfortunately, in this case, no one was outside at 5 a.m., so no one knew the deck fire was burning for so long outside,” Swinkowski said. “It’s very devastating for the family.”

Swinkowski expressed frustration with the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. The act allows the ignition of consumer-grade fireworks the day before, day of and day after a national holiday.

Under the township’s ordinance, fireworks civil infraction fines start at $75 for first-time offenses and can range up to $500. Under state law, individuals who discharge consumer fireworks under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, or who damage the property of another person, face a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $500.

A permit obtained through the local jurisdiction is required for any type of display fireworks, which include mortars and other airborne fireworks. The largest consumer fireworks that residents legally can ignite measure 1 ¾ inches in diameter.

The permit requires those handling display fireworks to have a 70-foot radius of clearance around cannon — 140 feet across — and to not set them off on sidewalks, easements or roadways. Fireworks cannot be within 20 feet of a resident’s lot line or 25 feet of a structure.

Neighbors’ permission must be obtained if fireworks encroach on their property.

Swinkowski requested that those having guests over for the holiday tell drivers to park as close to the curb as possible and only on one side of the road on narrow streets, in case a fire truck has to respond to a medical emergency or fire.

Given the slim margins of the fireworks legislation, Swinkowski said few subdivisions south of 26 Mile Road have enough space to legally ignite fireworks, but there are ample opportunities to purchase fireworks.

“Because the state didn’t want to lose tax revenue to Ohio or other states, it changed a good law and replaced it with a horrible law that can’t be enforced,” he said. “In trying to enforce it, we lose money on overtime and investigations.”

At press time, Swinkowski said state officials planned to discuss a temporary ban on fireworks due to the extended hot and dry weather of late.

“But how do you enforce it? Hopefully people will be smart enough to understand the dangers,” he said. “It only takes one stupid act to ruin someone’s life or possibly even kill them.”

Indian Springs Metropark, in White Lake, canceled its fireworks show scheduled for June 30 due to dry weather conditions. At press time, the fireworks set for June 29 at Hudson Mills Metropark, in Dexter, and July 1 at Lake St. Clair Metropark, in Harrison Township, were still scheduled.

“Although we, at the Metroparks, want nothing more than to serve as many areas as possible, safety always comes first,” Huron-Clinton Metroparks Director George Phifer said. “Next year, Oakland County residents can count on us putting Indian Springs back into the fireworks lineup.”