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Pawleys Island: Fireworks violations face tickets, not warnings

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island cut $50 from the minimum fine for shooting fireworks on the island. That doesn’t mean violators will get a break. Police will start issuing citations rather than warnings, Chief Mike Fanning told Town Council this week. “I’m OK with zero-tolerance,” he said.

The town banned fireworks in 1990 with a $200 maximum fine. In its zeal to crack down on fireworks on an island where homes are built close together on narrow lots and the fires are a concern, the town adopted another ban in 2005 with a $500 maximum fine. A year later, it extended the ban to possession of fireworks, but set the top fine at $200.

Each of those laws stayed on the books, Mayor Bill Otis said. The uncertainty over the fines wasn’t an issue because police only give out warnings. Fanning told council officers are reluctant to write a ticket that could cost a vacationer $500.

Police issued three warnings for fireworks violations last month. Council Member Mike Adams wanted to know why. “We’re already giving them a warning when they come across the causeway,” he said, referring to road signs announcing the ban and the $500 fine. “I live in mortal fear that we’re going to have a fire and wipe out 30 houses.”

As to the amount of the fine, Adams said, “it’s fairly inexpensive compared to the cost if my house goes up in flames.”

The council adopted a new ordinance on fireworks and repealed the previous ones. It’s still illegal to shoot or possess fireworks on the island. The minimum fine is now $150. The maximum is $500.

“We would be more apt to write a ticket for $150 to $200,” Fanning said.

Otis said he is sympathetic, recalling that his children once set the dunes alight with fireworks when they were young. But he favors tickets over warnings.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman agreed, but added that $500 would be steep for a couple of kids with bottle rockets.

Adams said he is also a fan of fireworks and regularly sets them off on New Year’s Eve, but not on Pawleys Island. He also favored allowing sparklers. (“I wouldn’t go that far,” Council Member Glennie Tarbox said, recalling a house fire on the island’s north end.)

Still, Adams said, “I don’t think we should let them go with a verbal warning.”

Of course, that only applies if police can catch the culprits. An officer rode the beach after dark on the Fourth of July, Fanning said. In spite of the ban, there were fireworks bursting in air. “I didn’t think it was epidemic, but there were fireworks out there,” he said.

Police received two complaints about fireworks this month, one on the Fourth. Both ended with warnings, Fanning said.

Most of those who shoot fireworks disappear at the sight of an officer. “They can’t claim ignorance,” Fanning said.

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