BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY — A new era for Michigan fireworks is underway, and locals hope to get through the busiest fireworks season of the year without any incidents.
A state law passed late last year erased a long-standing ban on aerial fireworks for personal use. Prior to the new rules, residents could only purchase sparklers and fireworks that didn't leave the ground — or buy illegal fireworks from out-of-state sources.
"People are very happy about it," said James Stajos, who recently opened Black Diamond Fireworks on U.S. 31 near M-72 in Acme Township. "They're excited, they're elated, they're saying it's about time Michigan got on board."
But the new rules make some public officials nervous. Those responsible for handling injuries or fires the devices could create are bracing for problems as residents accustomed to low-grade fireworks switch to the heavy artillery.
"Now, they're going to have a consumer-grade missile-type fireworks," Traverse City Police Capt. Steve Morgan said.
Some cities in Michigan are scrambling to restrict the use of aerial fireworks. The Detroit suburb of Warren this week banned their use within 30 feet of a residential building because of the threat of fire, among other concerns.
The only rule on the books in Traverse City is a regulation that prohibits aerial fireworks on the city's parks, beaches and other public lands, City Manager Ben Bifoss said. Right now, there are no plans to change that.
But that regulation is significant, Morgan said, since the risk of injury is higher when more people are present.
"It's important that we get the information out that they're not allowed on public property, they're not allowed on beaches or parks where there's going to be a lot of people for the Fourth of July," Morgan said. "Somebody could get hurt by one of these things flying."
Jim Carroll, Blair Township Fire Department chief, said injuries are likely as people with no safety training ignite the devices.
"That's a big concern for us," he said.
Aerial fireworks actually are safer than ground-based fireworks, Stajos contends, primarily because the explosion is designed to be far away from people. But people still must be careful when using any type of firework, he said.
"You've still got to use some common sense," he said. "It's like anything else — be smart about it."
Stajos said fireworks are "highly, highly federally regulated," so items deemed to be too risky aren't legal to be sold anywhere. He's spoken with people who believe old-fashioned M-80s and other high-powered fireworks banned years ago are legal again under the new regulations.
"It's not allowed if it's not safe," he said. "They think that other stuff is coming back, and that's not the case."
All Michigan did was legalize fireworks that already poured in from neighboring states, Stajos said. Traverse City resident Bob Otwell has noticed aerial fireworks in Michigan for years, so he doesn't believe the new rules are that significant.
"I really don't think it will change things that much," he said.
Marc Fenton, who lives in the city's historic Boardman neighborhood, isn't opposed to aerial fireworks. But he is troubled by the apparent absence of regulations that prohibit their use in neighborhoods, where they could lead to fires or other problems.
"I would definitely say no neighborhoods, but how is a small-town police force going to enforce that kind of thing?" he said.
Morgan said city police will respond to noise complaints anywhere in the city if violations of city noise ordinances are reported.