East Hawaii News

Few Fireworks-Related Issues Reported This New Year’s

By Nathan Christophel
January 7, 2022, 3:30 PM HST
* Updated January 7, 2:19 PM
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The sky over Hilo was ablaze — before, and after midnight — as the Big Island rang in 2022 with a bang.

The weather cooperated and might have even made it seem like there were more fireworks displays on which to feast festive eyes. Authorities confirmed to Big Island Now on Friday, Jan. 7, there were fewer pyrotechnic complaints compared to last year, and for the most part, the island’s residents celebrated responsibly.

The Hawai‘i Police Department reports that between 6 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021, and 11:59 p.m. Jan. 2, officers responded to fewer fireworks complaints than during the same time frame the previous year.

Officers responded to 227 complaints this year compared with 251 the previous year. Nine of those complaints were criminal complaints compared to just one criminal complaint during the New Year’s holiday in 2020-21. Officers issued three fireworks-related citations from 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve 2021 to 11:59 p.m. Jan. 2.

Of the nine criminal complaints to which officers responded, there were eight separate incidents in which aerial fireworks were involved and one was a general fireworks penalty. State law makes it illegal to purchase, possess, store, set off, ignite or discharge aerial devices, display fireworks or articles pyrotechnic without a valid permit.

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The use of fireworks is only permitted from 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve until 1 a.m. New Year’s Day. From 6 p.m. Dec. 31, 2021, to 11:59 p.m. Jan. 2, Big Island police responded to 157 complaints of fireworks being used outside the permitted time period. Four of those were formal criminal complaints.

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Hawai‘i Fire Department and several vendors sell fireworks permits from Dec. 26-31 each year. These permits are for “red paper” string firecrackers only, according to Michael Matsui, the fireworks auditor for HFD. Paperless firecrackers do not require a permit.

“Hawai’i Island is the only county that allows vendors selling fireworks to sell the permits that are needed to purchase and use firecrackers,” Matsui said.

Aerial fireworks, which move more than 12 feet, require special permits and a special license. Any type of fireworks that go above 12 feet high and move around on the ground in more than a 12-foot radius are classified as aerial.
The law banning aerial fireworks was enacted in 1995.

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“The amount of fireworks permits sold this year is still being compiled by the vendors who were allowed to sell the permits,” Matsui said.

So far, he reported, the tally stands at 1,695 permits sold and he is waiting to hear back from three vendors who continue to go through their paperwork.

Each permit costs $25. The permits sold for 2021 New Year’s brought in more than $51,000. Money collected from fireworks permits sales goes into the county’s general fund. Matsui said that in previous years the county used those funds to help with Fourth of July fireworks displays put on by different nonprofits in East and West Hawai‘i that were done by professional licensed pyrotechnicians.

The fire department received a total of 252 calls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. According to Deputy Fire Chief Eric Moller, those calls included medical, rescue, alarm activations and good intent calls, among others. Only five were related to fireworks.

“The 2021-22 New Year’s Eve and day shaped up to be slightly above average for the sales of licenses/permits and fireworks-related responses,” Moller said, adding the call volume experienced by the department during the two days was in line with pre-COVID statistics.

He said there were no major fires or injuries related to New Year’s festivities this year.

“From my perspective, most of the community is respectful of the laws and tries to meet the requirements for fireworks use,” Moller said, adding that illegal fireworks continue to be a concern and efforts are ongoing to resolve those issues. “The use of fireworks can bring a special aspect to the ringing in of the new year, but we must remain vigilant of the dangers they present when utilized inappropriately.”

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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