Sales will remain at seven days when the new rules take effect in 2019
CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Council has voted for new restrictions on fireworks beginning in 2019. The decision came after another marathon public hearing in which well over a dozen more citizens shared their opinions on the matter.
The council could have chosen to reduce the days fireworks could be sold from the current seven days, down to four, similar to rules passed recently by the city of Battle Ground. Tom Scott with Western Fireworks voiced frustration from the industry over the idea of shortening the fireworks sales period.
“It is a huge undertaking to set up these operations, and do one year of sales in seven days,” Scott said, “and shortening that would be a huge hit to the industry.”
A number of other sellers mentioned the benefit of fireworks sales for charities in the county, while other citizens countered that charities in other states where fireworks are no longer sold had been able to adjust just fine.
“Over the last decade, our company alone has provided $500,000 to the Vancouver Historic National Reserve in support of their fireworks show,” said Scott. “That is a lot of money. Bluntly, we won’t be able to continue that if it’s shortened beyond seven days.”
That sentiment seemed to push the county away from the idea of cutting days fireworks could be sold, at least for now. Ultimately they stuck with the existing seven days, despite expressing concern that having a week of sales while cutting the number of days they can actually be used might present more opportunities for people to break the law.
“I think the decision to go to one day is likely to make this a very difficult period for a lot of people, and a lot of pets,” said Councilor Jeanne Stewart, arguing that allowing people to buy for seven days, then only use them on the holiday could make for a longer, louder night. “But we’ll just have to live with the consequences.”
At least two citizens brought up the fact that their schedules often mean that they can’t celebrate the holiday with fireworks on the Fourth as a reason for keeping the 3rd or the 5th as days fireworks can legally be used. Ultimately the council rejected those arguments, voting in favor of fireworks being legal only from 9 a.m. until midnight on the fourth. That brings the entire county in line with the existing rules south of 219th Avenue. Fireworks usage on New Years Eve would remain unchanged.
To help offset the cost of added enforcement, the county also approved an additional permitting fee for fireworks vendors of $156, on top of the existing $100 fee currently in state law. Many of the vendors indicated they support the additional fee, and would also work to help spread the word about the new rules, in exchange for keeping the seven-day sales period.
“I know after today we probably don’t want to ever talk about this again,” joked Councilor Julie Olson, “but we’ve heard the idea of launch zones, having specified areas in other parts of the county that are safe? I would support some kind of conversation about that in the future.”
Olson spoke earlier about her own experience with a neighbor’s firework last year that smoldered in some arborvitae outside of her house, eventually causing a fire in the early morning hours. She said that did impact her view about the potential danger of fireworks as urban areas become more and more densely packed.
“Just for the record, I am not against fireworks,” Olson added later, “but I am really concerned about the impacts in our urban neighborhoods.”
Olson was the lone council member to advocate for the adoption of so-called Safe & Sane fireworks rules, similar to those in Portland, which would have banned aerial fireworks. A number of people, including fellow Councilor John Blom, cited other studies that have shown an actual increase in injuries and fires after Safe & Sane rules are adopted, potentially because people are less cautious with them, or because more people tend to modify them.
“If we could ban Piccolo Petes, I would be a hundred percent in favor of that,” Blom joked. “I don’t think there’s been a more obnoxious invention ever created. But they are just as loud, even though they’re considered ‘safe and sane’.”
In a move similar to what Battle Ground did earlier this month, Clark County also added language that would allow the Fire Marshal to seek an outright ban on fireworks in years where the fire danger is deemed to be extreme. Unlike Battle Ground, however, such a ban would require the approval of the county council. The ordinance also provides more guidance on what would constitute an extreme fire danger:
The language reads, “For consideration of imposing a ban, the following thresholds must have been reached in Clark County as reported by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources:
- The Burning Index is Extreme as determined for the entire county; and
- The Fuel Moisture Content of the 10 hour fuels is below 8 anywhere in the county;
- The Energy Release Component is in the 90th percentile.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if a ban would affect the sales of fireworks. Battle Ground’s ordinance impacts only the usage of them if a ban is put in effect due to fire danger, not sales, and a ban could be enacted up to the holiday itself.
The new rules next year will come with some heavy financial penalties. A first offense for getting caught lighting off fireworks on any day other than the fourth would start at $500 for a first offense, and then double for any further violations beyond that. By comparison, a first offense in Battle Ground would start at $100, although council members there indicated they could come back before next year to align their penalties more closely to those adopted by the council.
Ultimately, Clark County Chair Marc Boldt admitted that these new rules are their first best attempt at finding a way to balance community concerns with those who still want to celebrate the holiday. They also hoped to eliminate some of the confusion caused by the 219th Avenue dividing line.
“Even though we have talked a lot of fireworks, if this doesn’t go right, we’ll be talking about it again,” he said. “I’m a salaried guy. I don’t get paid by the hour, so I can bring it in again, you know?”