Santa Feans could be forgiven if they peered into the sky after dark on the Fourth of July and didn’t realize a fireworks ban was in effect.
Illegal private pyrotechnic displays could viewed for hours across the city — including several launched from the busy Santa Fe Place parking lot, where the local Kiwanis Club had organized a professional show for the city of Santa Fe.
Both the Santa Fe County Commission and the City Council prohibited sales and use of fireworks amid extreme drought conditions and concerns of fire danger.
Still, not a single citation was issued in the area.
That wasn’t a surprise to Santa Fe resident Hilary Vermont, who called the fireworks ban a “big fat joke.”
Vermont, who lives near the Railyard District, wrote in an email she’s tried to get law enforcement to respond to illegal fireworks in her neighborhood for the past 25 years but hasn’t gotten anywhere.
She often finds spent fireworks in her yard and watches people set them off near the railroad tracks and in dumpsters, she wrote.
One year, Vermont added, she stood with a water hose, hoping to deter anyone from throwing fireworks over her fence and into her yard.
She recently called to report illegal use of fireworks but received an apathetic response from a dispatcher, who never even asked for her name or location, Vermont wrote.
She has no faith local law enforcement could enforce a ban, she said.
City spokesman Dave Herndon wrote in an email the Santa Fe Police Department received 131 calls about illegal fireworks but issued no citations.
It was the third year in a row officers failed to cite anyone for illegal Independence Day displays.
Santa Fe County spokeswoman Carmelina Hart provided data showing the Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center, which serves both the city and county, received 181 fireworks complaints. The data includes the Edgewood Police Department, which fielded eight calls.
Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Ríos said deputies responded to about 48 calls, none of which resulted in a ticket — which could have resulted in a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail for an offender.
Ríos said deputies have to catch someone in the act of launching a rocket to write a ticket.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “Even in the time when you have an actual ban, like we do now, it’s very challenging to get people to understand that they shouldn’t be shooting off fireworks. Again, the challenge is catching someone in the literal act of setting them off.”
The proliferation of pyrotechnics also plays a role.
While counties and cities might ban the sale, Ríos said, it’s easy for residents to purchase fireworks in nearby communities or from temporary vendors set up on tribal lands.
The fireworks bans prohibit the sale and use of missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, stick-type rockets and ground audible devices. They were put in place as the Western United States is parched by drought conditions. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly all of New Mexico was in some state of drought July 1, the most recent data available, with 30 percent experiencing exceptional drought — the most severe conditions.
The county’s ban will expire July 29, while the city’s ban will end Aug. 10.
Herndon wrote in an email the city’s fireworks ban was put in place primarily to mitigate fire risk, which was accomplished over Independence Day weekend.
The Santa Fe Fire Department responded to one small brush fire, which was extinguished immediately, Herndon wrote.
The city will enforce the ban, as needed, as long as it is in effect, he wrote, but also will continue to educate the public about fire safety.
The fireworks bans did not affect the city’s annual Fourth of July show organized by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe.
Before, during and after the city’s show at Santa Fe Place mall, however, prohibited fireworks were set off with impunity in and around the mall parking lot, which was monitored by local police.
Herndon wrote in an email police patrolling at Santa Fe Place were overseeing safety of attendees, not fireworks enforcement.
Asked whether police considered the use of missile-style fireworks in a crowded parking lot a safety risk, Herndon wrote, “The PD was actively monitoring the scene and taking actions it deemed appropriate to maintain public safety.”