Fireworks bill sparks concern in Spencer, IA - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Fireworks bill sparks concern in Spencer, IA

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SPENCER, Iowa (KTIV) - There's two events that Spencer, Iowa is best known for: the county fair and the 1931 fire that destroyed half the downtown and sparked a ban on fireworks sales state-wide.

Now, lawmakers are working on a bill to allow the sale of such novelties in the Hawkeye State.

While some say it would bring new economic opportunity to border towns like Sioux City, people in Spencer say the law will not be a boom but a bust.

"You can see that it started here on the corner of Grand which would have been Main, and 4th Street,”  Parker Historical Society Director Cindy McGranahan told a group of 7th graders touring the local museum.

Students who visit the Clay County Heritage Center are sure to learn about the great 1931 Spencer fire sparked by fireworks.

"One of the boys picked up a something and took it to the clerk and said I don't know if I have a punk or a sparkler, and she said, "let's light it and find out,'” said McGranahan.

Startled, the boy dropped the sparkler on a table of fireworks, igniting a fire that reached 70 businesses in just 50 minutes. The fire carried across the street to another store selling fireworks. It traveled down to the hardware stores.

"There was ammunition in the building and that started shooting off,." she told students.

It spread through drug stores, furniture stores, and the Opera House.

"All of these building were made of wood, there were no fire barriers," McGranahan explained.

That fire prompted Iowa lawmakers to ban the sale of fireworks, becoming the first state in the nation to do so.  Now, the legislature is looking to reverse course and allow anyone over the 18 purchase them.

"I'm inclined to support a bill that legalizes fireworks here in Iowa because I think it's a good issue, I thin it's something that people enjoy, and I think it's vastly different issue than it was 20, 30, or even 75 years ago," said Sioux City Rep. Chris Hall (D).

Spencer's Fire Chief says he's concerned with how little is actually in the bill that's being debated at the capitol.

"This is a bad piece of legislation if I've ever seen one.  There's no enforcement mechanism, no requirements, no time frames," Doug Duncan stated.

Fireworks companies are lobbying for its passage. But the city of Spencer is doing its own lobbying, sending letters and voicing concerns with representatives.

"We are just asking for tragedy at our town and other towns across Iowa," pointed out Spencer Mayor Reynold Peterson.

Proponents say the state is losing out on sales.  They hope this law sparks a economic boon for border communities like Sioux City, which is losing out to South Dakota.

"It might make sense for our community to be able to compete," said Sioux City Rep. David Dawson (D).

Even residents admit the Spencer fire is part of the past, not the present. Building codes make it unlikely a fire of that magnitude would be sparked by fireworks and spread.  That doesn't mean they're not worried about the impact the law could have.

"I'm not worried that a town's going to burn down, but I think if fireworks are more available, more kids are going to have black cats and injure themselves," pointed out Spencer resident Paul Brenner.

Some lawmakers, like Sioux City Rep. Ron Jorgenson (R) said they'd be in favor of a provision that allows cities to pass their own ordinances restricting fireworks, if the state passes the new law.

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