BOISE -- Aerial fireworks will no longer be legal to sell to the public in Idaho, according to an Idaho Attorney General's Office opinion announced Tuesday morning.
The interpretation is a reversal of the previously-allowed loophole, which allowed the sale of aerial fireworks as long as the purchaser signed an agreement saying he or she would not set them off in the state limits.
Fire chiefs have long opposed the loophole, arguing it is ineffective at actually stopping people from setting off illegal fireworks, and leads to dangerous and expensive human-set fires like the 2,500-acre blaze Table Rock Fire, which was started with an illegal firework last summer.
In the opinion, Deputy Attorney General Paul Panther wrote that the existing law does not require a buyer to sign an affidavit agreeing not to use illegal fireworks in Idaho, despite what some fireworks retailers are currently doing. Furthermore, Panther's opinion interprets the law as outlawing the sale of aerial fireworks to the general public.
“Special fireworks, that is, fireworks that are not non-aerial common fireworks or ‘safe and sane’ fireworks, can only be sold to a person possessing a permit issued pursuant to Idaho Code 39-2605 for a public display or event,"he wrote. "Such fireworks can only be sold within a reasonable time period before the display or event.”
The opinion does not constitute an outright ban on aerial fireworks, however; enforcement of the interpretation will be left up to individual counties, meaning sheriffs and county prosecutors in each of Idaho's 44 counties will have to decide whether and how to make firework sellers comply with the law's latest interpretation.
Although July 4 is only a week away, Elmore County Sheriff Mike Hollinshead said his deputies would begin enforcing the new interpretation of the law right away. Retailers who sell the aerial devices could receive an infraction that carries a $100 fine on the first offense, and $1,000 and up to a month in jail on any following offenses, he said.
The Ada County Sheriff's Office says the opinion still leaves it unclear whether it is illegal for private citizens to buy aerial fireworks in Idaho.
But they strongly encourage stands not to sell them as they could risk getting a citation.
According to the interpretation, buyers who possess a proper permit can still purchase these types of fireworks.
The sheriff's office posted the following on its online blog Tuesday:
"While we totally agree that such fireworks should not be sold to private citizens in Idaho, as the law allows for permitted public displays like Fourth of July celebrations, our initial interpretation of the recent AG’s analysis still leaves it unclear whether permits are required for private citizens to buy aerial fireworks when they promise not to use them in the State of Idaho.
"We strongly encourage fireworks stands to not sell aerial fireworks to private citizens without a permit in Ada County this summer as they risk getting a citation.
"This is a complex issue. Not only are aerial fireworks dangerous for the people who use them, they also put everyone else in the community at risk."
Other counties are still mulling their responses, but the enforcement is likely to be far from uniform across the state.
Aerial firework shows like the City of Boise's planned display at Expo Idaho July 4 will still be allowed with the proper permit. The opinion does not apply to firework sales on tribal land.
The opinion from the Idaho AG's Office was issued after an inquiry from Boise Rep. Mat Erpelding, who asked the state's lawyers to weigh in on the controversy.
Erpelding sponsored a bill in the 2017 Legislative Session that would have permanently closed the fireworks sales loophole, but the measure was voted down by the members of the House State Affairs Committee.
“I stand by Idaho’s fire chiefs who are working to prevent these costly and unnecessary wildfires which jeopardize the lives of our citizens and first responders, destroy our public lands and cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted money," Erpelding said in a statement Tuesday.
Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan, who had been an outspoken supporter of the change and told KTVB he was "outraged" at the bill's failure, also praised the AG's opinion.
"Illegal fireworks last summer burned six homes in this valley, and we need to do something," he said.
Doan said he hoped to focus on education before retailers start receiving citations.
"The retailers and wholesalers don't even know this yet, so its kind of unfair to just walk up and say 'you're breaking the law,'" he said. "We are going to work with them, we are going to educate them first all around the state."
KTVB is working to gather more on this story. Check back for updates.