Vancouver pushes fireworks safety

Educational blitz, demonstration related to new city ordinance

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Tips for safely lighting fireworks

• Light fireworks on a firm, safe surface, such as a driveway.

• Keep fireworks at least 25 feet away from plants or combustibles.

• Have a bucket of water and a garden hose ready nearby.

• Have a cellphone handy in case something goes wrong.

• Keep animals inside (the Fourth of July is the most common day for pets to go missing).

• Only adults should light fireworks.

• Follow the instructions on the package.

• Light one firework at a time and move away quickly.

• Never hold or throw lit fireworks.

• Don't try to relight fireworks that aren't working.

• Place used fireworks in a metal container filled with water before throwing them away.

• If clothes catch on fire, stop, drop, cover your face and roll over and over again until the fire goes out.

Source: Vancouver Fire Department

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Starting this year, personal fireworks use in Vancouver will be limited to the Fourth of July, leaving officials to wonder how people will respond to the change. In anticipation of the coming holiday, the city increased its efforts to educate locals about the new ordinance and fireworks safety.

"We're trying to go the extra mile this year," said Vancouver Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli, who spearheaded public outreach.

The city put advertisements in the newspaper, had fire department volunteers distribute fliers and approached radio and television stations to get the word out.

In 2012, the city council unanimously voted to limit personal fireworks use to the Fourth of July and limit sales to three days, July 2-4. This year, customers at fireworks stands will get a flier with their purchase that outlines the new law.

The city also put $10,000 in the 2013-14 budget for increased education and enforcement. Enforcement teams will be out writing citations for people setting off fireworks outside the discharge times or in city parks, which can lead to a fine of at least $250.

Scarpelli said she saw this year as an opportunity to teach people about the dangers of fireworks, whether they're store-bought or illegal. She organized a fireworks demonstration at Camp Bonneville in east Clark County on Monday.

During the demonstration at the firing range, a sparkler bomb blew off the fingers of a mannequin, a triangle firecracker blew off the other fingers, and an aerial shell blew off its foot. On a real person, the explosive devices would also leave behind burns, said Bryant Hart, explosives enforcement officer.

"It's supposed to be fun, not take your hands and feet off," Colene Domenech said at the camp's firing range. She's the agent in charge at the Portland division of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency that regulates explosives.

Some commercial fireworks used to blast bedrock are legal only with a permit. Domenech explained that illegal fireworks, such as M-80s, a knockoff of military grenades, are dangerous because they're unpredictable and sensitive to heat and shock. They're packed with black powder or flash powder that can detonate without being lit. If the devices are sitting in a bag, the static charge can set them off, Domenech said.

People might make legal fireworks illegal by modifying them. When fireworks are wrapped together to contain the ignition, they don't detonate properly because the buildup of gas ruptures the container, Domenech said. They quickly explode to let out the blast pressure.

"Just because it has a fuse doesn't mean you have a long time to get away from it," Domenech said.

Setting off illegal or modified fireworks can result in a minimum $500 fine.

A common problem each year is fires sparked by used fireworks, Scarpelli said. People will put their used fireworks — not knowing they're still smoldering — into a garbage can or a paper bag that later catches on fire. Fireworks should be placed inside a metal container filled with water.

Every package of fireworks contains a couple of duds, Scarpelli said. Fireworks that don't go off when they're lit should be left alone for an hour and then soaked.

Changes to fireworks rules in Vancouver widened the gap between city and county fireworks laws. In unincorporated Clark County, which includes parts of Vancouver's urban growth boundary such as Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek, fireworks can be sold and discharged from June 28 to July 4.

Previously, the city allowed fireworks to be sold for seven days, June 28 to July 4, and discharged for four days, July 1-4.