ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Carly Williams’ Independence Day went from celebration to chaos in a matter of seconds.
She was sitting on the back patio of her home on Himalaya Way in Arapahoe County with her mother when they watched as a neighbor, who appeared to be lighting off illegal fireworks from their backyard, launched a firework into the open space adjacent to their house.
“It just went up into flames quickly,” Williams said. “My mom said, ‘Fire!' And I turned around got on the phone and called 911.”
Within moments, fire crews were on the scene trying to douse a growing wildfire a few hundred feet from her home. Deputies arrived and started evacuating people from the homes adjacent to the open space.
“It was just kind of get out as fast as you can, but you really can’t grab much,” Williams said. “I saw people loading up suitcases.”
And as this entire hectic scene unfolded, the skies around the fire were still full of fireworks. South Metro Fire tweeted a video of firefighters spraying tall flames, noting that fireworks were still exploding in the area around the large fire.
“They weren’t thinking,” Williams said. “They’re too into the fireworks and having fun.”
While a lot of people were having that kind of fun Monday shooting off fireworks that are illegal in Colorado, very few of them faced consequences for it. Police agencies contacted by 9NEWS Tuesday wrote only a handful of tickets for illegal firework used over the Fourth of July weekend, despite hundreds of complaint calls.
In Arapahoe County, where that fire started Monday, dispatch received 166 calls complaining about fireworks, but deputies wrote no citations.
“We had a whole lot of fireworks calls, which is typical,” said Arapahoe County Patrol Deputy Justin Dillard, who was out patrolling the western half of the county Monday night.
“It’s just difficult because with fireworks there’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Our hope isn’t to go and break up people’s fun.”
Dillard said fireworks statutes are difficult to enforce, as deputies need to specifically see the fireworks involved in the incident.
“First of all, we need to see it,” the deputy said. “So, we have a lot of calls that are like hey we see fireworks we drive the area we don’t see anything.”
“Trying to investigate to find out the who, the when and the what for a petty offense isn’t the highest priority for the other things we have going on at the time,” he said.
The other things going on at the time are often fireworks related, Dillard said. He detailed one call from Monday night where a man, angry about illegal fireworks being shot off in his neighborhood, drove over to confront the people doing it, driving his van over a sidewalk, yelling and cussing at them.
“That’s disorderly conduct, its harassment, its reckless driving,” Dillard said. “It’s something that’s making a lot of people in one area unsafe.”
“He has a point that he was upset that they were shooting off fireworks which is a petty offense but the other ones are misdemeanors. And that’s more threatening to life and property at the time than whatever they were setting off in the street.”
Fireworks violations result in a municipal ticket in Arapahoe County, punishable by a fine of $500 for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third and any subsequent offenses, according to an ordinance passed by county commissioners this past year.
“I’d write you a ticket, I’d leave and the chances are you’d probably just keep going if you wanted to anyway,” Dillard said.
Dillard said deputies would absolutely pursue citations against people who are actively putting people in danger with fireworks, but often they can’t get to those calls in time to stop a dangerous situation like Monday’s fire.
“The sheer amount of fireworks makes it difficult to one show up to all of them,” Dillard said.
Williams, who was evacuated from her home during the fire, knows police can’t keep up with the volume of fireworks out there. She thinks it’s time to consider tougher penalties for those who are caught that might dissuade people from using illegal fireworks and new laws to prevent people from being able to purchase them in the first place.
“Check IDs at the fireworks stand,” she said. “'Oh, you’re from Colorado? You can’t buy these, it’s illegal in your state.'”
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