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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Fireworks posed fewer problems for officials

Church fire, man, boy's injuries worst incidents seen


Destroyed church aside, Clark County’s eight-day fling with fireworks caused fewer problems than fire officials had feared.

In Vancouver, it was the first year for the city’s shortened four-day season.

“It was opposite of what I thought would happen,” said Vancouver Acting Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli. “The majority of our citizens followed the rules.”

Clark County Deputy Fire Marshal Richard Martin said this year seemed to be a little bit quieter, with people being more considerate of their neighbors and the rules.

“And I know there are some people who will argue that with me,” said Martin, who has been with the county 25 years. “Maybe I’m just getting numb.”

A bag of fireworks debris a parishioner placed next to La Iglesias de Dios de la Profecia, not realizing the smoldering debris could start a fire, did just that very early July 5 at the church, 13000 N.E. 159th St.

Also, a Sifton man and an 8-year-old boy were hospitalized July 4 after the man discharged a modified firecracker. The boy was not seriously injured, but the man may lose some of his fingers.

Those were the most serious problems, officials said Tuesday.

Jim Flaherty, firefighter-spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department, said there were some small brush fires, but the long rainy season helped keep those in check.

“I think the aggressive education campaign really helped out, too,” Flaherty said.

Not everyone got the message.

Clark County Fire Marshal Jon Dunaway worked late July 5 reminding people fireworks were no longer legal after midnight July 4 in unincorporated Clark County.

“Most of them were families and they claimed they didn’t know” about the rule change, Dunaway said.

Next year his office probably won’t be so lenient, he said.

Both Scarpelli and Martin were collecting data Tuesday from their staffs on fireworks-related warnings and incidents, so numbers weren’t available. They said they weren’t aware of any citations issued by their offices for illegal use of fireworks.

The citation carries a $250 fine.

Scarpelli said the focus this year was on education.

“There are going to be different pockets through the city (where) not everybody follows the rules,” she said.

Martin said most of the people he talked to in the county were cooperative once he pulled up in his truck.

“We had one that comes to mind, when we drove up in the neighborhood and of course they disappeared, then five minutes later we’d get another call. It was just that cat-and-mouse game,” he said.

He said most complaints involved curfew violations as opposed to illegal fireworks.

There was one eye-catching display he saw that he thought may have been illegal fireworks, but he inspected them and they were legal.

“There were probably $800 to $1,000 worth of mortars and they set them all off at once,” Martin said.

The city shortened the legal window for fireworks this year to four days, making them legal July 1 to 4, while in unincorporated Clark County and elsewhere fireworks were legal June 28 to July 4.

Only the cities of Camas, Battle Ground and Ridgefield allowed fireworks on July 5.

Washougal has the county’s strictest policy, with fireworks limited to July 4.

Scarpelli expressed hope officials from different jurisdictions could have a “fireworks summit” and agree on uniform rules to make it less confusing for residents.

Then again, there are some people who don’t bother to find out the rules.

Martin said he talked to one group of people Monday night who thought it was legal to shoot off fireworks until July 7.

That hasn’t been the case for 20 years, Martin said.

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

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