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Red Flag Warning issued for Independence Day

Fire officials urge caution as people prepare to light off fireworks

CLARK COUNTY — Just in time for fireworks celebrations across Clark County, the National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for Southwest Washington, lasting from 1-8 p.m. on Wednesday. Prime time for many citizen-led fireworks shows.

The National Weather Service says relative humidity levels tomorrow will be very low, and winds could gust up to 35 mph during the day. It’s also expected to get into the mid to upper 80’s, creating “Conditions (that) may be favorable for rapid fire spread which may threaten life and property.” The alert urges people in the area to “Use extra caution with potential ignition sources, especially in grassy areas. Outdoor burning is not recommended.”

Fireworks are blamed for a fire that destroyed one home in Vancouver last week. Photo by Chris Brown
Fireworks are blamed for a fire that destroyed one home in Vancouver last week. Photo by Chris Brown

Clark County officials had already issued an outdoor burning ban as of July first, meaning burn piles are illegal. Recreational fires, such as grills and enclosed fire pits, are still allowed.

“Right now we have gusty winds combined with low relative humidity, which really, with dry grass and shrubs, increase the fire danger for the Fourth,” says Heidi Scarpelli, fire marshal for the city of Vancouver. This will be the second Independence Day since Vancouver issued an all-out ban on fireworks usage within city limits.

“It’s always a learning curve for people to understand the law, and that the city of Vancouver is serious about enforcement; zero tolerance,” Scarpelli says. “And I would say that, just anecdotally, it has been a reduction this year.”

Fire officials say fireworks are to blame for a fire that destroyed a home and vehicle in Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown
Fire officials say fireworks are to blame for a fire that destroyed a home and vehicle in Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown

There will be enhanced patrols in Vancouver, looking for anyone violating the fireworks ban. Scarpelli says so far this year they’ve issued seven citations to people using fireworks illegally. And getting caught isn’t cheap. Fines start at $500, and go up for any repeat offenses.

“We are suggesting that people go down to enjoy a barbecue, and things like that, at your home,” she says. “But if they want to watch a fireworks display, that they go down to Fort Vancouver, and enjoy the celebration down at the Port site.”

Despite the ban, fireworks are being blamed for a fire that destroyed one home and damaged another on Z Street in Vancouver, near St. Johns Boulevard, last Thursday. A car and two outbuildings were also destroyed.

In Battle Ground, a grass fire south of the Wal-Mart store on Southwest Scotton Way was apparently sparked by a firework. It was put out by citizens and employees in the area before fire crews arrived.

A discarded firework sits at the center of a patch of burnt grass in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown
A discarded firework sits at the center of a patch of burnt grass in Battle Ground. Photo by Chris Brown

Starting next year, several local cities and Clark County will have new limitations on fireworks. In Battle Ground, the fire marshal will be able to ban fireworks if the fire danger is deemed to be extreme. Clark County Today has reached out to find out if conditions like what we’re seeing now might trigger a ban. We will update this story if we hear back.

In Battle Ground, the fire marshal can act independently of the city. In unincorporated Clark County, the council would need to be involved in any decision to ban fireworks due to extreme fire risk conditions.

If you do plan on setting off your own pyrotechnic display, safety experts say you should make sure you have buckets full of water to discard used fireworks in. Also make sure you have a hose with a nozzle that sprays a good distance nearby, turned on and ready. It’s also helpful to wet down any grass, trees, and roofs near where you’ll be lighting off fireworks shortly before doing so. You’re also reminded that 9-1-1 is for life threatening emergencies only. If you have a complaint about fireworks, or a minor injury that doesn’t require an emergency response, call the non-emergency number. In Clark County that’s 3-1-1, or (360) 693-3111.

This Battle Ground grass fire was put out by witnesses earlier this week. A discarded firework may be to blame. Photo by Chris Brown
This Battle Ground grass fire was put out by witnesses earlier this week. A discarded firework may be to blame. Photo by Chris Brown
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About The Author

Chris Brown

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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