CHESTER - The owner of the fireworks stand that caught fire Saturday night was charged Wednesday with two counts of illegal possession of fireworks.
Samples of the fireworks being sold at the stand outside Shorty's Place Bar & Grill were collected and identified as illegal under West Virginia law, according to a complaint filed in Hancock County Magistrate Court by assistant State Fire Marshal Zachary Bailey.
Russell "Chip" Kohser, license holder for the stand, appeared in court Wednesday morning and posted a $1,000 surety bond. His case has been assigned to Hancock County Magistrate Michael W. Powell.
Kohser's next court date is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 7. If convicted, he could be fined up to $100 and sentenced to 90 days in jail on each count.
Kohser, owner of Kohser Farms, a community-based agriculture provider, formerly sold fireworks out of his now-closed business, Stateline Feed & Country Store. This was the first year for the fireworks stand outside Shorty's.
On Saturday night, just hours after the stand opened, a fire started that ignited the fireworks and destroyed the canopy over the stand. No one was injured, but the resulting fireworks show forced the closing of U.S. Route 30.
Investigators believe the fire was caused by a short in an extension cord being used to run the lights in the stand, Kohser said. Workers could be seen cleaning up the area on Wednesday.
Kohser said he intends to reopen a stand that will sell only fireworks that are legal in West Virginia - novelty items such as sparklers, poppers and smoke devices. West Virginia law prohibits the sale of fireworks that give a loud report or go airborne, such as bottle rockets, firecrackers and Roman candles.
Kohser declared his innocence in an interview earlier this week, saying that the aerial fireworks for sale at the stand were being sold only to out-of-state customers who showed proper ID.
A bill debated by the West Virginia House of Delegates earlier this year would have legalized the sale of more "energetic" fireworks, but it later died in committee.
Del. Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, said Wednesday he supported the bill because it would have created a structure for the safe sale of fireworks and because it would have kept the business in West Virginia.
"We just weren't going to let people sell these big fireworks from tents," Swartzmiller said. "Let's face it: When you set up a tent of fireworks next to a bar, you're asking for problems. ... From what I saw (on YouTube.com) the other night, I would say some of those fireworks going off probably weren't sparklers."
Swartzmiller cited the example of Ohio, where retailers sell fireworks from permanent buildings that have sprinkler systems. He said he would prefer West Virginia residents not have to go out-of-state to buy fireworks.
"Under the bill we had, it would have created areas where fireworks could have been sold. ... We wanted to create business opportunities in West Virginia. We wanted them to be in a building, so you wouldn't have these small-time vendors," he said. "It actually would have created a safer climate for the citizens of West Virginia."
The bill didn't go anywhere, Swartzmiller said, because of pressure from convenience stores that sell fireworks and from the West Virginia Office of the State Fire Marshal.
"There was some push-back from the state fire marshal," Swartzmiller said.
(Huba can be contacted at email@example.com)