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Fireworks spark small fires, noise complaints

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 11, 2016

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA — The ban issued July 1 by the Shelby Township Fire Department on all fireworks and bonfires, due to dry conditions, did not deter residents on the Fourth of July weekend.

Shelby Township Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said the Fire Department responded to four grass fires, a dumpster fire caused by the ignition of discarded fireworks, and a couch outside an apartment building that caught fire likely due to fireworks.

On July 3, Swinkowski said, crews responded to a couple of open burning complaints in which residents piled yard waste and set it ablaze, which is not permitted under the township ordinance at any time.

On July 4, he said, there were a couple of open burning complaints during the day and, between 10 p.m. and midnight, the department responded to the grass, dumpster and couch fires.

“Obviously, fireworks are suspected in all cases,” he said. “That’s the frustrating part. Everyone knew (about the ban due to dry conditions), and the media has been putting out a warning against fireworks.”

The Fire Department also responded to several instances in which residents were setting up fireworks without the proper clearances required by state law.

“A lot of people are just ignorant of the law itself — all they know is fireworks are legal (the day before, day of and day after a national holiday), but (only consumer) fireworks are legal if you have the proper clearances,” Swinkowski said. “You cannot do it in the roadway or easement, which is the sidewalk to the roadway, which is where everyone does it.”

He said first responders took the information for several individuals violating state law and township ordinances, but that both the Fire and Police departments were swamped.

“Information was taken, but nothing was done at that point,” he said. “It was passed on and forwarded.”

In comparison, Swinkowski said there were three dumpster fires related to discarded fireworks in 2015, no issues in 2014 and one issue related to fireworks in 2013.

Shelby Township Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil said the Police Department was very busy from July 1 to July 4 this year.

Over the four-day weekend, Coil said, police had 457 calls for service, including 59 calls for fireworks and 11 for noise related to fireworks.

“There were numerous periods of time we couldn’t make all the calls because of the call volume,” Coil said.

Besides fireworks complaints, Coil said police responded to 14 accidents, a stalking incident, two runaways, two motor vehicle thefts, three assaults, four larcenies and several drunken driving offenses over the weekend.

On July 4, the Shelby Township Police Department posted a photo of a car that had crashed into a house and wrote, “For those of you who said we ‘didn’t care’ when you called in your fireworks complaints, please know that we do care, but that sometimes other calls take priority. THIS car-in-a-house from yesterday, for example.”

Utica Deputy Police Chief Sean Coady said the fireworks activity in the city was relatively tame and the majority of police runs were to check homes in which residents were on vacation or away for the weekend.

“There was a little bit of firework activity, but most of it was fairly compliant, and they weren’t doing it in any area that would cause difficulty with fireworks,” Coady said. “We were a little concerned because of the drought we’re experiencing, but we didn’t have any issues.”

Utica Fire Chief Kevin Wilseck said the Fire Department was pretty quiet — the usual for holiday weekends.

A brush fire took place at Stony Creek Metropark’s Inwood Trails over the holiday weekend, most likely due to the careless use of fireworks. A group of birders saw two areas that were burned the morning of July 2.

Joan Bonin, a regular on the trails and an avid birder, photographed the aftermath of the fire July 3. A fireworks label was visible among the debris.

Bonin said there was a mess of fireworks on the ground by the bridge crossing Stony Creek on Inwood Road, near a bald eagle nest.

“The juvenile eagle fledged on July 2, so (she’s) very new to flying,” she said. “Fireworks going off at the bridge could have frightened her to the point that an accident could have happened. What a terrible disaster that could have been.”

Bonin said she sent her photos to Stony Creek via Facebook and got a response that a mother of one of the park employees called in the fire to the Washington Township Fire Department.

Gary Hopp, operations manager at Stony Creek Metropark, said he was aware of the fire, but that he did not have further information about its cause or who reported it.

Washington Township Fire Chief Brian Tyrell did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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