Damage from fireworks dips in Clark County

Toll about $30,000, compared with $278,000 last year

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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The 2013 Clark County fireworks season, while busy and noisy as usual, ended with less property damage from fireworks than in 2012.

In July, the number of 911 calls steadily increased, spiking during the midnight hour as the Fourth of July came to a close.

Between June 28 and July 5, Vancouver firefighters received 553 calls, said Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli. That's about 11 percent more than in a normal eight-day period.

Vancouver firefighters dealt with nine fireworks-related fires this year. Smoldering fireworks in a garbage can sparked a fire that damaged an attached garage and several vehicles inside it in east Vancouver. The damage estimate from the fires totaled $30,000 -- a big dip from last year, when a fire from smoldering fireworks burned off the roof of a Cascade Park home and destroyed a boat and a van parked in the driveway. Damage from fireworks in 2012 was estimated at $278,000.

Dry and windy conditions were a bane for area firefighters who worked to put out multiple spot fires. Dispatchers took 70 calls for bark dust fires between June 28 and July 5; more than half were reported in Vancouver.

The fire agency doesn't increase staff during the holiday; crews just hurry from call to call, Scarpelli said.

In that eight-day period, 911 dispatchers took 722 calls complaining about noise around Clark County, including 615 related to fireworks, according to dispatch logs. More than half of those fireworks complaints were in the city of Vancouver. The numbers are about the same as last year.

Many people reported aerial fireworks, which are legal and produce a lot of noise, Scarpelli said.

Fire officials patrolled the city Thursday night, July 4, and into Friday morning. They issued 11 citations totalling $4,500 in fines to people who either had illegal fireworks or were violating the curfew law.

A $500 citation was issued after an illegal "sparkler bomb" injured three males, ages 12, 13 and 21, on the Fourth of July. A sparkler bomb is made by wrapping several sparklers together with tape and then lighting it on fire.

Every year, Scarpelli said, it seems that fire officials issue citations to those looking to get a bigger boom by modifying fireworks.

In 2005, when fireworks patrols started, there were almost 700 complaints and officials wrote over 100 citations. The numbers have dropped dramatically over the years. Last year, there were just nine citations. "It's been really going down," Scarpelli said.

Next year introduces new firework laws into the city. The Vancouver City Council unanimously voted Oct. 1, 2012, to limit personal fireworks use to the Fourth of July and shorten the sales period from seven to three days.

Scarpelli said the city will advertise the new laws through electronic reader boards, fireworks safety fliers and posters distributed at area retailers, public service announcements and communication with the city's neighborhood associations and apartment complexes.

"The best way to really change people's mind-set about the new fireworks law is through education," Scarpelli said. "Most people want to follow the law. They just might not know it."

With 2014 looking to be heavy on enforcement and education, Scarpelli hopes for a successful transition into the new ordinance.

But for now, she offers a simple reminder: "Fireworks season is over. Don't use fireworks anymore."