WILDFIRES

Man whose house burned in 2017 protests aerial fireworks; wants Utah ban

Jul 4, 2018, 6:12 PM | Updated: 9:06 pm

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – Last Independence Day, an errant aerial firework set a field on fire and nearly burned down a home in Cottonwood Heights. That homeowner has started a campaign to ban aerial fireworks. He spent the 2018 holiday protesting on Bengal Boulevard, not far from his home.

With thousands of acres burning across the state, officials have said the fire conditions have been prime for flames to ignite.

“It was bad last year. It’s twice as bad this year,” said Dave Schoeneck, commenting on current fire conditions.

One year ago, Schoeneck’s home was nearly destroyed by a fire caused by an aerial firework. That fire, and many others last July, convinced Utah lawmakers to restrict the number of days for lighting fireworks.

Schoeneck said they didn’t go far enough, and he’s trying to build support for a ban.
He was out of town on July 4, 2017 when a neighbor called about his emergency.

“He says, ‘Dave, your house is about to go up in flames,'” Schoeneck told KSL.

According to officials with the Unified Fire Authority, an aerial firework started a fire several properties away from Schoeneck’s, and burned through a 55-acre field before catching his house on fire.

“Extensive damage to the exterior, and our trees, and our windows, and smoke damage,” Schoeneck said, detailing the damages.

His family was out of the house for four months. They had to pay $30,000 in repairs that insurance did not cover.

“Very, very grateful that we still have a home,” he said.

Like-minded neighbors stopped by Wednesday to show their support for his protest.

“People are so irresponsible and disrespectful with fireworks in July anyway, that I was not at all surprised that somebody might have actually caught somebody’s house on fire,” said Amanda Babcock, who lives near Schoeneck.

She was walking in the neighborhood when the fire started and feared for many homes.

“You could just see the inferno,” she said. “You didn’t need to question what it was.”

Schoeneck wants Utah lawmakers to ban aerial fireworks again, and establish penalties for neighbors who let their properties become a fire hazard.

“They are negligent, and they are putting people’s lives and homes at risk,” he said.

Security National Financial Corporation owns the field next to his house and the cemetery where he staged his protest. The field has been well-trimmed, and company officials said was mowed within the last two weeks.

Schoeneck believed if the field had been trimmed that well last year, he would not have had a problem.

“We would not have been burned,” he said. “We would not have had the damage to our home had they heeded the warning’s that I’ve given them for 14 years.”

Security National Financial Corporation disputed Schoeneck’s claims of liability. They did agree, however, that fireworks lit in restricted areas are a risk to their property and the rest of the neighborhood.

“We believe, as far as fire safety, we are doing everything that we can reasonably do to help protect the neighborhood,” said Adam Quist,Vice company president.

The company maintained the firework was lit in a restricted area and set fire to several properties before igniting its field. Despite Schoeneck’s claims, the company said it has periodically mowed the field.

“Both city officials and United Fire Authority officials have told us that we’ve gone above and beyond anything they have asked us to do,” said Quist.

A lingering dispute.

“If they cause damage like they’ve done to our home, then they need to be held liable for it,” said Schoeneck.

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Man whose house burned in 2017 protests aerial fireworks; wants Utah ban