In Our View: Combustible Issue Is Back

Fourth of July is four months away, but it’s never too early to debate fireworks

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Almost as predictable as every year’s Fourth of July, Vancouver city councilors were discussing fireworks again Monday evening, and it’s easy to see why. City residents have strong feelings about this issue; it’s one of the leading topics in emails and other communications city officials receive from the public.Across the spectrum of public response about fireworks ranging from patriotic pyromaniacs on one end to guardians of total peace and quiet on the other end folks throughout Clark County are passionate about both the pleasure and the pain of fireworks.

For several years, councilors have been tinkering with fireworks rules in Vancouver. Not only have these changes all been wise ones, they’ve also been applied incrementally and gradually, thus easing the transitions. In 2003, fireworks were banned on New Year’s Eve in Vancouver, following the same countywide rule set by county commissioners five years earlier. Then in 2009, Vancouver banned fireworks on July 5, with the same change occurring a year later in unincorporated Clark County and in Amboy and Yacolt. (Common sense has led us to repeatedly opine that blowing up fireworks on July 5 is like opening Christmas presents on Dec. 26.)

The windows of fireworks sales and use have also been narrowed. In 2009, it was seven days in Vancouver, but now it’s down to just four days (July 1-4). Simultaneously, Vancouver residents seem to have been more conscientious about following the rules, especially the 11 p.m. curfew (midnight on July 4).

Alas, there are always a few fireworks “pinheads” (as Vancouver city councilor Jeanne Stewart correctly calls them) who break the rules and cause problems. And this year the council is contemplating further restrictions, perhaps even a ban in years to come. As shocking as a ban on fireworks might sound, such is the case in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Bellevue. Vancouver is the state’s largest city without a fireworks ban.

We believe tighter fireworks rules perhaps narrowing the windows of sales or use could be worth considering, but a total ban on fireworks in Vancouver just won’t work for several reasons. The first of these has to do with geography and population. Vancouver is connected in many areas to unincorporated areas, and banning fireworks in the core of the community would just drive much of the sales and use to the perimeters. And widespread abuse of those perimeter rules could be expected. Aggravating this predicament is the fact that many residents don’t even know if they live inside or outside city limits.

Remember, Vancouver proper contains less than 40 percent of the county’s population. In fact, more than half of county residents live outside any city limits. So it’s difficult for a single jurisdiction to change fireworks rules and have much of a lasting impact.

In a perfect world, fireworks rules would be consistent countywide. But asking eight cities and a county government to sing off the same page especially such a hotly disputed song as fireworks is unrealistic. For that matter, in a perfect world there would be no fireworks pinheads. While various elected officials sort through the demands of their constituents, the two best plans for all of us in Clark County are (1) know the rules where you live and (2) honor your neighbors by observing the Golden Rule.