As Iowa lawmakers consider a bill to legalize the sale fireworks in the state, leaders of a community in northwest Iowa strongly oppose the idea — after having been the scene of a disaster years ago. Spencer officials are lobbying legislators to kill the measure, according to city manager Bob Fagen, or at least to allow communities to opt out and uphold the longstanding fireworks ban.
“It’s very dear to most of us, that idea you could lose part of your town on a simple thing like somebody tripping and letting a Roman candle or whatever it is burn down your town,” Fagen says. “You’ve got to be very, very careful about that.” Spencer was instrumental in getting fireworks banned statewide more than eight decades ago after fire devastated the town.
During the midst of a drought in 1931, a boy with a sparkler accidentally set off some fireworks in Spencer, sparking a wind-whipped fire that destroyed two-and-a-half city blocks of the downtown. “People still leave the state and go out and buy things they probably aren’t supposed to legally and come back and use them,” Fagen says. “Most people grew up with the idea that for some reason you couldn’t do it, but unless you’re from this area, you don’t know what can happen if they’re not used correctly.”
Fagen says he knows of colleagues from other communities who would welcome the sale of fireworks to generate additional sales tax revenue, but he says the older generation of Spencer residents still remember. In the legislature, the fireworks legalization bill died initially but was revived. It’s now before the House Ways & Means Committee. A subcommittee advanced the bill on Monday and it may be debated in the full committee sometime this week.
(Reporting by Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars)