Vancouver may limit fireworks usage to 4th of July

Council to consider ordinance that would cut sales to three days, take effect in 2014

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

The use of personal fireworks within Vancouver city limits could be limited to just the Fourth of July, starting in 2014.

A majority of the Vancouver City Council said on Monday they will consider an ordinance that would limit the sale of fireworks to three days and limit the use to one day.

The workshop on one of the community's most controversial topics came after the council rejected a plan in June that would have banned all but "safe and sane" fireworks. The council made that decision at the end of a late-night meeting during which most speakers urged the council not to place additional restrictions on personal fireworks.

A date of a public hearing on the new proposal has not been set.

Currently, the city has a seven-day period for sales (June 28 to July 4) and a four-day period for use (July 1 to July 4).

By state law, any changes to fireworks laws have to be passed 365 days in advance, so it's too late to change the rules for 2013.

While councilors favored shortening the window, a few expressed concerns about the fact that the Board of Clark County Commissioners has not been inclined to tighten regulations. In unincorporated Clark County, fireworks may be sold and discharged from June 28 through July 4.

Councilor Jack Burkman said some people who live in unincorporated Clark County but within Vancouver's urban growth boundary (such as Hazel Dell residents) don't know if they are in city limits or not.

Mayor Tim Leavitt said it's unfortunate the county doesn't "take this more seriously" and bring its code more in line with other urban areas.

Burkman said the city council should reach out to county commissioners and ask if they would consider greater restrictions, at least within the Vancouver urban growth area.

The "safe but sane" policy, used in the state of Oregon, bans Roman candles and mortars as well as anything that travels more than 12 inches vertically or more than 15 feet horizontally from the source of ignition. Among the items considered "safe and sane" are sparklers, base and cone fountains, and ground blooms.

Councilor Jeanne Harris argued for a longer transition period to help people get used to the idea. She proposed starting with three days of sales and three days of use in 2014, then three days of sales and two days of use in 2015 and three days of sales and one day of use in 2016.

City Manager Eric Holmes said it would be easier to have one clear message for residents than a series of messages.

While Vancouver is the only major city in Washington that allows personal fireworks, councilors agreed an outright ban would not work.

Councilor Larry Smith said he would favor a ban, but knows residents would not obey it.

Children grow up in Vancouver watching their parents set off fireworks, he said.

"That's just a rite of passage," Smith said.

Councilors said they will want to hear from vendors about how they think a shortened sales period would affect profits.

A lot of nonprofit organizations rely on fireworks sales, Smith said.

In 2005, the city council banned fireworks on New Year's Eve. In 2008, the council reduced the number of days fireworks could be discharged, from seven to four.

Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli told councilors that the city was aggressive about educating residents this year about permitted use, and distributed 25,000 fliers to firework stands. Electric reader boards also helped spread the word.

She said both the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver Fire Department saw calls increase 16 percent between July 1 and July 4 over the same period last year.

There were 17 fires attributed to fireworks, and a few dozen other fires where fireworks were the likely cause. The total amount of damage from fireworks was estimated at $278,000, but that was mostly for one Cascade Park house that caught fire after used fireworks stored in a flammable container were set too close to the home.

There was one fireworks-related injury in the city, Scarpelli said.

She said the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (911) received 347 complaints related to fireworks.

Nine citations were issued for illegal fireworks, and five citations were issued to people who were using fireworks after hours.

"Enforcement is difficult at best," Scarpelli said.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.