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CHEYENNE — Days before the Fourth of July, Frank Elliott's hopes for a stampede of last-minute shoppers shelling out money at his fireworks stand here have fizzled.

On Tuesday night, the Laramie County Commission imposed restrictions on the discharge and sale of fireworks in the county because of dry conditions.

While there was still hope that enough rain might fall this weekend so the fireworks ban could be lifted in time for the holiday, Elliott said the restrictions are a "drag" on business. He is prohibited from selling fireworks to Wyoming residents but can sell to people from other states.

But that's small consolation to fireworks vendors facing bans during their busiest and most profitable time of the year.

'Bad for our business'

"That's like saying they haven't banned sales of Coors Light, but you can't drink it in the county, can't drink it in the city," Elliott said. "It's bad for our business, and it's bad for those who feel they are responsible adults and can do it."

Ray Weidenhaft, fire management officer with the state Forestry Division, said Thursday partial fire restrictions that prohibit the use of fireworks have been imposed in Albany, Carbon, Fremont, Johnson, Laramie, Natrona, Platte and Weston counties in Wyoming because of dry conditions.

Restrictions in other states

Restrictions on fires and the use of fireworks have been imposed in other states where an unusually dry spring has resulted in tinder-dry forests and fields. Large fires have already occurred in California, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and other states, burning 3.6 million acres.

Colorado has imposed statewide fire restrictions, and some national forests in the West, including the Medicine Bow National Forest in southern Wyoming, have instituted fire restrictions. Others have issued closures.

"This particular fire season has started about three, three-and-one-half weeks earlier than anyone expected," Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Wednesday.

Fire restrictions that come before Independence Day are hard on fireworks vendors, who rely on sales leading up to the holiday for much of their annual revenue.

"We probably do 90 percent of our business over the Fourth of July," said William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks in Youngstown, Ohio.

In 2005, the fireworks industry tallied $880 million in revenue, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association in Bethesda, Md.

The amount of fireworks purchased by people who shoot them off privately has more than doubled since 2000 — from 102 million pounds to 255 million pounds in 2005.

"Use of consumer backyard fireworks has never been more popular," said Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the APA.

Elliott said Wednesday his stand, Fire King Fireworks, which operates three to four months during the year, must pay about $3,500 in annual fees to Laramie County.

He would like to see the county at least establish a safe area or zone where people could shoot off their fireworks instead of just issuing a ban.

According to the state Forestry Division, 70 of the 909 fires reported in Wyoming in 2000 were started by fireworks. Those 70 fires burned a total of 15 acres. Records of fires after 2000 no longer specify fireworks as a separate cause, Weidenhaft said.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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