SOUTH BEND – Most of Northern Indiana is now in the “severe to excessive drought” category. Not only is it very hot; it’s also extremely dry. For days, County Commissioners and city leaders have been trying to figure out what that means for fireworks in St. Joseph County.
Late Thursday afternoon, Clay Fire Territory Chief John Vance decided to postpone Saturday’s professional fireworks show at St. Patrick’s Park. His concern – too much dry, dead vegetation that would burn very easily if ignited. However, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra will play as planned. Clay High School has been reserved as a rain location.
Vance said he legally cannot cancel a professional fireworks show, but state law does allow him to postpone such an event. He also pointed out his decision is not final. If the area receives a significant, soaking rain by Saturday evening, he will re-evaluate his decision, he said.
As the sun bore down on St. Pat’s Park Thursday, maintenance crews moved large hoses and sprinkler heads to strategically water the hillside where concert-goers will sit Saturday and the tube hill where fireworks might still be set off.
“It’s been a challenge," said St. Joseph County Parks Maintenance Leader John DeMaegd. "It’s been an every week thing. You don’t mow this year, you water.”
But lots of backyard and professional shows are still being planned over the next several days in St. Joseph County, South Bend and Mishawaka. According to state law, people can legally begin setting off fireworks Friday, June 29.
County Commissioner Andy Kostielney (R – 1st District) said he and other commissioners have been working with city leaders from South Bend and Mishawaka to determine whether the county should and could enact a county-wide fireworks ban or declare a disaster drought emergency that would make fireworks illegal except for professional shows.
“We’re trying to get, number one – can we do it? And number two if we can, how do we do it? The folks downstate were kind of getting some conflicting stories as to how much authority and ability that we have,” Kostielney said.
WSBT contacted Indiana’s Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General’s office and the state Fire Marshal.
State law is vague when it comes to whether fireworks bans and emergency drought disaster declarations override the state fireworks laws, Kostielney said.
State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson said no one has challenged any of the bans in court yet.
But that could change. Friday, Indiana’s Fireworks Dealers Association is holding a news conference to talk publicly about their interpretation of the law. A spokesman from that group told an Indianapolis newspaper they might as a judge for an injunction that would end the ban.