The Hawaii Police Department is taking an aggressive stand against illegal fireworks violators who threaten to turn New Year’s festivities into “war zones.”
In a written statement released last week, police requested that citizens provide information about the location of any known illegal fireworks and the identities of their owners.
Hawaii state law prohibits the purchase, possession or ignition of aerial pyrotechnics — that is, fireworks that leave the ground when ignited — without a valid pyrotechnic permit, under penalty of up to five years in prison. Nevertheless, aerial fireworks are a very common sight in Hilo around the New Year’s holiday.
“People are trying to turn neighborhoods into war zones,” said Hawaii police Capt. Randall Medeiros, comparing the illegal fireworks to “mortar shells.” “We’re going to try to do something about it.”
Police Capt. Greg Esteban said the department will boost its presence over the holiday weekend in order to better respond to fireworks reports. Esteban noted that a difficulty in enforcing fireworks lies in the transient nature of the offense: By the time police respond, the fireworks have long since been detonated.
“In order for a witness to be helpful, he has to be able to identify the house the fireworks are coming from,” Esteban said. “And that can be hard to pinpoint unless you’re living right next to it.”
Although Esteban acknowledged that illegal fireworks offenses will likely be prevalent throughout the holiday, he hopes residents will consider the risk fireworks present to their neighbors.
“Maybe their neighbors have respiratory problems or animals that get scared,” Esteban said, adding that it only takes one spark to ignite a potentially devastating fire.
Medeiros added that the commotion caused by fireworks is detrimental to the health of elderly residents.
“At 80, 90 years old, you don’t really need to be put in the middle of a war zone,” Medeiros said. “They don’t need that.”
Although fireworks permits can be purchased at several locations throughout the Big Island, these permits only entitle the holder to purchase up to 5,000 firecrackers, not airborne fireworks.
However, novelty and paperless ground-based pyrotechnics require no such permit.
Permits can be purchased at the Puainako Street KTA, at the BJ Alan tents on Maka‘ala Street and Puainako Street, Longs Drugs at Prince Kuhio Plaza or the TNT tent on Maka‘ala.
Meanwhile, legal fireworks can be purchased throughout the island until New Year’s Eve.
The Hawaii Fire Department advises residents handling fireworks to use extreme caution and only ignite fireworks well away from flammable materials or children. In addition, having a water supply at hand is important to control unexpected flames.
Anyone with information about illegal fireworks is encouraged to contact the Hawaii Police Department at 935-3311.
“Don’t forget to tell people to turn in their explosives,” Medeiros told the Tribune-Herald, “because we’re coming to look for them.”
Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@ hawaiitribune-herald.com.