Company sues Sterling Heights over sky lantern ban

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

A Michigan fireworks company is suing Sterling Heights over an ordinance that bans the sale and use of sky lanterns.

Black Diamond Fireworks, which owns at least 11 stores under the name Pro Fireworks, filed the lawsuit after a city official demanded its Sterling Heights store remove the lanterns from its shelves or face a fine for violating the municipal law.

Steve Kaplan, attorney for Black Diamond Fireworks, said he believes municipalities can only regulate the time of day fireworks or sky lanterns are sold. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the ordinance.

“Our position is that only the state through state statute can outlaw or prohibit the use of particular types of fireworks,” he said.

Sterling Heights adopted the ordinance in August 2015 calling sky lanterns a “serious fire and safety hazard.”

The city says banning sky lanterns is permissible because they are open-burning devices and not consumer fireworks protected from local regulation.

The lanterns have a thin membrane over a wire form that rises into the air when fuel is ignited, heating the air inside. They usually fall back to earth when the fuel runs out, but sometimes come down with the flame still burning.

Sterling Heights joined several other Michigan cities in its ban against sky lanterns including Canton, Melvindale and Lincoln Park.

City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed Friday in Macomb County Circuit Court, since it’s pending litigation. The lawsuit assigned to Judge Joseph Toia.

Meantime, Kaplan said Pro Fireworks has ceased the sale of sky lanterns at is Sterling Heights location.

Mayor Pro-Tem Joseph Romano said he supported the city’s decision to ban sky lanterns because they are dangerous and have the potential to cause fires.

“Unfortunately, some of those lanterns when they come down they are still lit,” Romano said. “We had a tree catch on fire with one of those sky lanterns and we felt ... better safe than sorry.”

Romano said the ordinance was strongly recommended by Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin.

Fire investigators in Highland Park are investigating whether sky lanterns caused four houses in Highland Park to catch fire Tuesday, according to news reports.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals has also concluded sky lanterns were a hazard and has urged all states to ban them.

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