Barracks fireworks

Fireworks explode in the air for county citizens at a past Fort Vancouver Barracks fireworks show.

The Clark County Council is looking at potential new changes to fireworks laws in unincorporated parts of the county, receiving a report from the 2020 Fourth of July season while considering restricting what types of fireworks could be used.

Councilors took part in a remote work session Oct. 21 where they received information from interim county fire marshal Dan Young and considered whether or not to host a public hearing on a new ordinance that would affect legal fireworks types in the county.

The ordinance would make fireworks that did not fit a “safe and sane” designation illegal in Clark County. The ordinance describes the illegal fireworks as ones that fly, explode or travel more than 1 foot into the air or more than 6 feet on the ground.

Prior to consideration of moving forward with a public hearing, which is tentatively planned for December, Young provided data from 2020 on enforcement and damage from fireworks during the Independence Day season. Young noted that in 2019 fireworks discharge dates were normalized across unincorporated parts of the county, with all areas only allowing for use on July 4.

For the 2020 season, Young said the fire marshal’s office worked with fireworks wholesalers to develop uniform signage that showed fireworks laws, safety information and potential penalties for illegal usage. The office also emphasized using the county’s interactive map for fireworks use, which according to Young’s presentation had close to 29,000 visits since the start of this year.

For this fireworks season, Young said there were between four and eight Clark County Sheriff’s Office vehicles patrolling each night between June 28 and July 5. Between that time, Young said there were 404 complaint calls, with 56 individuals advised or receiving warnings, up from 36 in 2019. There were no citations issued, Young said, which in part was due to the social climate at the time following mass protests on police brutality nationwide.

“We were doing more safety and a lot of education,” Young said.

Young said in many cases — 168 of the 279 calls for service responded to — deputies were unable to locate any individuals or conditions that would justify the complaint. 

Young said anecdotally this year it felt that those lighting off fireworks were not shooting off full displays at once prior to Independence Day, instead going by a few at a time, which he reasoned may be in part due to July 4 falling on a Saturday which could have concentrated discharge to the designated date more.

Young said his office responded to five fire investigations related to fireworks during this year’s season, ranging from a dumpster fire due to improper disposal of fireworks with an estimated $500 of damage, to a fire on a house exterior wall estimated to have done $25,000 in damage.

Permitting for fireworks sellers totalled about $9,600 for Clark County, Young said, which was around the cost for enforcement of fireworks laws. Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy said he heard from fireworks sellers who expressed interest in contributing to local fire districts to help with costs for their responses. Young said he wasn’t aware of such a mechanism available.

Councilor Julie Olson brought up the issue of trash and debris following discharge, something not included in Young’s presentation.

“It’s in the streets and it’s in the neighbors’ yards, and on their roofs and in their gutters,” Olson remarked.

Medvigy felt consideration of new fireworks laws only a few years after the last changes was premature. He noted the number of cancellations of large-scale fireworks events this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as prior work adjusting fireworks laws in the past few years.

“Our nonprofits, our for-profits, all of our citizens are still adjusting to the change that just happened,” Medvigy said. “This is an unprecedented time where personal freedoms have been truncated, and we’re still within that.”

Council chair Eileen Quiring O'Brien agreed that county residents needed more time for the most recent fireworks changes to  “settle in.” She said that some nonprofits raised their entire budgets for the year off of fireworks sales.

Olson pushed back on the notion that there hasn’t been enough time, pointing to the fact that the only change was on discharge, not on dates of sale, and to the increasing rate of complaints.

Olson said it was her opinion that discharging fireworks “do not qualify as a personal freedom,” adding that “there’s no right to blow up our neighborhoods with fireworks that start fires, frankly, and terrorize our seniors and our pets.”

Olson said that nonprofits who rely on fireworks sales would be able to pivot their fundraising opportunities. Councilor John Blom added that any changes would not be in effect until the 2022 Fourth of July season.

“We’re talking about a change that’s 12 to 18 months away,” Councilor Temple Lentz said, voicing her support to bring the proposed changes to a hearing.

Clark County Council’s Senior Policy Analyst Lindsey Shafar said that a hearing for the ordinance on Dec. 1 would be looked at.

 

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