An estimated 60 people attended a meeting on Tuesday night at Pōmaikaʻi School, focused on illegal fireworks and the rampant use in residential neighborhoods.
Those in attendance heard from a panel of government officials on what is being done to curb their impact and import as well as enforcement on Maui.
Event organizer, Mahina Martin from the group Papae Maui Nei, said, “I think on New Years Eve and Forth of July (those holidays), its not so much the event of the night itself. What’s the concern happens before the restricted hours. It’s the unpredictability of the aerials and just the sheer magnitude of it if you look into the central valley of Maui.”
“One of my concerns,” said Martin, “was that our community did not have information and was quick to blame law enforcement, and yet law enforcement was hampered by laws, personnel… just the capabilities to handle the magnitude of what it’s become.”
Concerns raised came from individuals with PTSD, pet owners concerned about the welfare of their animals, asthma sufferers and longtime residents who say illegal use has gotten out of hand.
“Every year, my 89-year-old mother-in-law cries,” said Linda Puppolo, a resident of Kahului, Maui. “She doesn’t understand why her home of 57 years is now a war zone.”
While restrictions are in place, concerned homeowners say many start their celebrations early and often, at the expense of those within earshot.
“We’re not talking about one night a year. We’re talking about from Thanksgiving to New Years, and we’re talking about from June to August,” said Puppolo.
“We’ve called the police many times… They respond, but they always tell me that they can’t do anything because they have to see it,” said Puppolo. “We live a block and a half from the Police Department. If they can’t hear those bombs, I don’t know why. I just don’t know why,” said Kahului resident Linda Puppolo.
There are several bills being considered by legislators including one that would give authorities better leverage in executing citations. “I believe the current legislation, that if it passes, says that they are able to use evidence such as an iPhone picture or a movie clip if-you-will of somebody lighting the illegal fireworks,” said Maui Department of Fire and Public Safety Chief David Thyne.
House Bill 89 HD2 SD2 C1 , which would give authorities the expanded ability to arrest individuals based on witness statements and images, passed final reading on Tuesday with amendments.
“That’s good from the sense of enforcement because both the law enforcement (I’m speaking for them, but) and for us as a fire service agency, we’re limited to the amount of staffing that we put out for any type of event like Fourth of July or New Years because we’re responding to fires and emergency medical calls as well,” said Chief Thyne.
“Generally speaking,” Chief Thyne said, “the fire service community backs a ban on fireworks except for cultural events and things that are permitted through cultural reasons and whatnot, and certainly in talking with some of the community members, having certain designated areas where there’s no pets or young children, or people that can get hurt would be a preference. That would be something that we would 100% support.”
“The cultural interest in the state of Hawaiʻi runs very deep, and certainly we respect the cultural side of fireworks and what they mean to certain cultures, and we don’t want to definitely dissuade that, or not support those type of events, however,” Chief Thyne said, “I think that as far as from our perspective as fire service, we would support banning these types of obviously illegal fireworks for sure, but also the widespread use and anyway we can contain the amount of illegal fireworks that come in and limit the amount of exposures to the neighborhoods that have young children and dry brush areas.”
Chief Thyne said that despite a partial ban in Honolulu, there’s still what he described as “an epidemic problem” there. “So I don’t know if banning them will solve the issue, versus I know there’s some progressive legislators that are currently working to enhance the surveillance and limiting the amount of fireworks that comes in.”
“It’s the constantness of it and the unpredictability of what’s happening here on our island when these fireworks go off,” said Martin. “We’re not talking about little fireworks or yard fireworks. We’re talking about big booming sounds–‘bomb-like’ people describe it. We’re hearing stories about little kids being woken up at 10 o’clock at night, we’re hearing veterans with PTSD, just sufferers–people are afraid that their homes will be on fire or have been previously.”
For several homeowners, the celebrations are a reminder of what happened just last year on the Fourth of July in Kīhei when two homes were destroyed and four were damaged .
“I heard six pops. I counted them. Pop-pop-pop-pop…” said Michael Blaz of Kīhei, Maui. “The next thing I knew, within two minutes, my deck was engulfed in flames… the sliding glass door just dropped into a pile of glass, and this huge plume of dark black, toxic smoke… came right into my house, right into my lungs.”
“You hear about people dying from smoke inhalation,” said Blaz, “well I experienced that, because not only were my lungs burning (and I have been diagnosed with COPD since then), but the smoke was so thick and dark that I really lost my bearings. I didn’t even know which way was out to get out of the house.”
“Fortunately, a neighbor had come in through my garage, and was calling to me ‘get out, get out.’ And I followed his voice to be able to get out of the house,” said Blaz.
The likely cause was determined to be fireworks, the legal kind, set off during a legal time. But area residents say the children using the fireworks were unsupervised.
Fireworks are restricted for use during a small window on New Years Eve and the July 4th Holiday. But the question was posed–“How are so many illegal aerial fireworks getting in the hands of so many who are not permitted to set them off?”
“It’s not only about the illegal aerials that we’re all so concerned with,” said Blaz. “In my opinion, it’s about fireworks in residential neighborhoods period… To me, the solution would be to limit firework usage to designated areas in each one of our six communities on the island. It’s such a simple thing.”
Blaz suggested that fireworks for special occasions be allowed in large enough areas that could be supervised. “There could be a fire engine there. You could bring the keiki, the whole family. Not just to watch fireworks, but to participate.”
Blaz continued saying, “Bring your fireworks; Set up a little area for yourself; and use all the fireworks you want–Away from houses, away from pets, away from children, away from the elderly and away from areas that could cause massive damage and fires that change peoples’ lives because of fireworks. It’s not fair to those who are victims of this, like me.”
Blaz called himself “semi-fortunate,” in that he was able to stay in his house after the incident. “I lived in my home with plywood windows, like I was living in a tomb for about five months until the house was ready to get repaired. My damages were over $100,000, but that was nothing compared to the two homes just south of me that were completely destroyed by the fire.”
According to Blaz, estimated damages to the two destroyed homes was $600,000 to $700,000 for each home. “And then there were three other homes that were casually damaged as well. So if you add it up, the total damage–we’re probably looking at over $2 million worth of damage caused by that Fourth of July fire. And we’re all paranoid that Forth of July is coming up again… It comes every year.”
One of the main concerns has been how exactly does the volume of fireworks reach the island. “Considering that we’re here on an island, surrounded by ocean, how are they arriving? And so that’s quite a concern that’s coming up over and over,” said Martin. “With law enforcement… I think if they work in a concerted way, combined with the perspective of our community, we can find a solution to it.”
“As for importing, that’s a big question on everyone’s mind. How is it that kind of volume we’re seeing getting on island in the first place. That’s why we got a mix of representatives to get some perspectives on what limitations they face. I think if we don’t bump up the discussions put some information out there it’ll keep getting worse. And everyone will start blaming each other more and more,” said Martin.
Organizers say they are hopeful that the discussion with government leaders will help to address a long-standing concern and the growing volume of illegal aerials that are used on Maui each year.
The panelists at Tuesday’s meeting included Maui Police Chief Tivo Faaumu, Fire Chief David Thyne, Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman, Harbors Maui District Manager Duane Kim, DLNR Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation Division Maui District Manager Paul Sensano and Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.