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Law enforcement on lookout for fireworks violators

Fireworks that can be sold legally in Minnesota generally stay on the ground and don’t blow up. Forum News Service

DETROIT LAKES — Fireworks have become synonymous with Independence Day, as much a part of the celebrations as flags, barbecuing and American pride.

But as we approach the Fourth of July holiday, restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks are still a matter of contention.

Officials from the Becker County Sheriff’s Office are reminding residents and visitors about Minnesota laws concerning the sale, possession and use of fireworks within the state.

“When I’m out working, I can see what’s the right ones, and what’s not,” said Sgt. Todd Glander with the sheriff’s office.

Under state law, both aerial and explosive fireworks are banned. The list includes several popular varieties, including firecrackers, bottle rockets and Roman candles. Reloadable aerial shells, parachutes and ladyfingers also have made the list.

The location of fireworks can also land celebrators in hot water.

“Any public parking lot or sidewalk is not legal,” Glander said about lighting off even legal fireworks in the state.

During the week of the Fourth, especially, officers are on the lookout all around lakes country for people in violation of state and county fireworks laws.

Penalties range from a warning and confiscation of fireworks all the way up to jail time and fines in the thousands of dollars, Glander said.

He added that the severity of the punishment depends on the amount of illegal fireworks in possession, and is oftentimes “up to the discretion of the officer.”

The holiday weekend is the busiest time for violations.

“We get a lot of complaints,” Glander said, adding that officers “handle them as they come.”

He also said they see a lot of contraband fireworks coming in from out of state, most of them from North Dakota.

In Becker County, special permits for putting on fireworks displays are available through the county auditor, with the sheriff’s office signing off. Permits need to be filed at least 15 days in advance of planned fireworks use.

Many of these permits are filed by cities and local lake associations to put on professional fireworks displays.

For those who want to enjoy fireworks in their own backyards, Minnesota does allow certain types for personal use, including fountains, sparklers and novelty items such as snakes, smoke bombs and party poppers.

Glander said the laws are meant to help keep people and property safe, but the restrictions are not without their share of dissenters.

Kevin and Ann McIntyre, whose family has been running the TNT Fireworks stand out of the Detroit Lakes Walmart’s parking lot for the last five years, say their business is limited by current Minnesota laws.

“We would love to sell what they’re bringing in illegally from North Dakota,” Kevin said.

At their stand, they are limited to the sale of only those fireworks approved by the state.

“Nothing that leaves the ground,” Kevin said, adding that even recently popular floating, lighted lanterns are illegal.

The “Sky Lanterns” or “Celebration Lanterns,” often released simultaneously in large numbers, are not legal in Minnesota. The state fire marshal cites fire and safety threats to property, nature and livestock as reasons for the ban.

Proceeds from the McIntyres’ stand go to help Literacy for All, a nonprofit group. And Kevin said they could be making a lot more to donate to the organization.

In 2012, a bill that would have expanded the variety of fireworks allowed in Minnesota did not gain enough votes in the state Senate to override Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto.

If it had passed, Kevin said, the increase in the products they would have been able to offer would have greatly boosted sales.

Regardless of differing opinions on the laws, adherence to state and local ordinances as well as attention to safety are the main priorities.

“Ask at wherever you’re staying,” said Ann McIntyre, adding that different locations have different rules.

Fireworks laws vary by state, county and city, so it’s always best to check before you buy, transport or use any fireworks.

“We hope people stay safe,” Glander said.